ENEMO

ENEMO's Election Observation Mission to 2024 Municipal Elections in Hungary presented the Interim Report

29. May. 2024.

Budapest, 29 May 29, 2024 - During the press-conference held at the V30 Center, the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) presented its Interim report for the period 20 April – 25 May, 2024, in the framework of its international election observation mission (EOM) to the 2024 Municipal Elections in Hungary.

Head of the ENEMO Mission, Mr. Pierre Peytier, presented the key message from ENEMO’s Interim report: “The 2024 elections are unfolding in a polarized environment, with frequent blurring of lines between party and state negatively affecting the playing field. The campaign is marred by black PR, inflammatory rhetoric, and smear campaigns, as well as biased media reporting and a lack of equal access to media coverage. The absence of provisions for campaign finance specific to the municipal and EP elections, and lack of third-party campaigning regulations, affect the integrity of political finance and enable shadow funding practices. The preparatory phase conducted by EMBs is diligent, professional and generally in line with the law, despite the complexity of the elections.”

Overall, the legal framework governing the upcoming elections includes sufficient regulations addressing various aspects of elections. However, some key areas, specifically campaign finance and the abuse of state resources, remain insufficiently regulated. Ms. Nino Rizhamadze, Election Administration Analyst/Legal Analyst, said: “The electoral legal framework has undergone several amendments following the 2022 parliamentary elections. However, many previous ENEMO recommendations were not taken into account. The top priority recommendation, in particular, emphasized the need for an inclusive and transparent electoral reform. Furthermore, gaps and insufficient regulations remain unaddressed, especially those related to campaign financing, misuse of state resources, the blurring of lines between the state and political parties, media, and citizen observation.”

When it comes to the work of election management bodies, ENEMO notes the overall trust from stakeholders in both election commissions and offices. Ms. Rizhamadze added: “During the reporting period, stakeholders emphasized the professionalism and impartiality demonstrated by EMBs at all levels. However, while the majority of the mission’s interlocutors expressed confidence in the professionalism and efficiency of EMBs, some raised concerns regarding the appointment process of election commission members favoring the ruling majority party. EMBs demonstrated openness and transparency towards ENEMO observers. Despite the complexity of the upcoming elections, the election administration at the national level, as well as at the observed territorial and local levels, met legal requirements and deadlines.”  

Regarding the political background in these elections, Ms. Kristina Kostelac, Political Analyst, said: “The political environment leading up to these elections has been profoundly shaped by a series of events and policy decisions.” She added that the Fidesz government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has been characterized by its controversial policies, particularly its antimigrant and anti-LGBT+ stances. The administration has also enacted laws that restrict the operations of opposition groups, journalists, universities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) critical of the ruling party. Protests have been a recurring feature in Hungary since 2023, involving diverse groups such as teachers, influencers, and political figures. These protests reflect widespread discontent with the government's policies and actions. 

“The ongoing campaign is characterized by the extensive use of inflammatory rhetoric and black PR, with the governing party leveraging its resources and media control to shape the political narrative and undermine opposition figures. The highly charged and polarized atmosphere highlights the contentious nature of the upcoming elections.”, Ms. Kostelac stated about the electoral campaign. She added on campaign finance that: “The absence of legal limits on campaign spending is a critical issue, unlike parliamentary elections where limits exist. This allows candidates and parties to spend without restrictions, creating an uneven playing field. While the legislation includes severe penalties for the misuse of public funds, the lack of an appeals process significantly weakens the enforcement of sanctions and undermines accountability and fairness.”

Regarding the media environment, Ms. Teodora Gilic, Media Analyst, said: "The media landscape, in Hungary exhibits a high degree of external pluralism, divided among pro-government, independent, and gray-zone media outlets. Hungary’s media environment is frequently criticized for its disproportionate access to media and the level of funding attributed to the ruling coalition compared to opposition parties. This imbalance affects media coverage, undermining equality of opportunity in elections.” In addition, democratic principles are challenged by limited access to public information for independent journalists, intimidation of media workers, cyber-attacks, legal and financial pressures, thus creating an environment unconducive to a fully informed and engaged electorate. Beyond electoral issues, the media narrative is largely dominated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Fidesz frequently accuses the European Union and the United States of supporting the war, whereas the Hungarian government positions itself firmly as an advocate for peace. Ms. Gilic further added: “Political pressure is evident in local media, especially in municipalities where the ruling party holds political power. Contestants in municipal elections do not enjoy equal access to media. Media outlets, especially those with ties to Fidesz, tend to favor the ruling party and its affiliates, providing them with more coverage and positive portrayals. In contrast, opposition parties and independent candidates often receive limited and less favorable coverage. Fidesz and its proxies significantly outspend other political actors on Facebook advertisements, with expenditures exceeding 1 billion HUF.”

Ms. Ana Mihajlovic, Deputy Head of Mission, shared findings on the voter registration process: “In general, the passive and continuous voter registration process through the Central Electoral Register administered by the NEO enjoys the trust of the public and stakeholders. However, ENEMO notes that the deprivation of voting rights on the basis of an intellectual disability remains contrary to international standards, as does the distinction based on marital status. Some mission interlocutors raised concerns regarding the risk of unusually large numbers of voters being registered at the same address, especially in smaller settlements.” When it comes to vulnerable groups, she said: “The representation of women in politics remains a critical issue, largely due to the persistent lack of political will to address the matter through the implementation of mandatory quotas for women. The registration process for national minorities running for election was generally inclusive. However, some national minority interlocutors mentioned a lack of interest and financial support from the state, negatively impacting their visibility especially during elections.”

Ms. Mihajlovic concluded by saying: “Despite previous recommendations from international observers, including ENEMO, there are no legal provisions related to domestic non-partisan election observation. There is therefore no opportunity for domestic civil society to observe, at odds with best practices.”

The interim report presented is preliminary in nature, and the mission will continue to follow electoral developments over the next reporting period. ENEMO’s EOM plans to conduct limited observation at the polls on the day of voting, 9 June, and will issue a statement of preliminary findings and conclusions following Election Day, on 10 June.

Press release in English: (ENG) Press release ENEMO Interim report 2024 Hungary municipal elections.docx

Press release in Hungarian: (HUN) ENEMO sajtóközlemény.docx

Interim report in English: ENEMO Interim report Hungary 2024 Municipal Elections.pdf

Interim report in Hungarian: (HUN) ENEMO Interim report Hungary 2024 Municipal Elections.pdf

For further information, please contact the Head of Mission at pierre.peytier@enemo.eu or +36 202 326 786.

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