International observers have delivered a damning verdict on the parliamentary election in Hungary, complaining of “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing”. The vote on Sunday delivered an overwhelming victory for Viktor Orbán, who will now serve a third consecutive term as prime minister. Orbán and his Fidesz party campaigned almost exclusively on a programme of keeping migrants out of the country. “Rhetoric was quite hostile and xenophobic and that’s a fact which we find regrettable in an electoral context,” said Douglas Wake, the head of the monitoring mission for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), at a briefing in Budapest on Monday. The observers found that the hostile campaign “limited space for substantive debate and diminished voters’ ability to make an informed choice”. They also noted that public television “clearly favoured the ruling coalition”.
It is an unusually strong rebuke for elections in an EU country, but given the size of Orbán’s victory and his previous imperviousness to outside criticism, is unlikely to have much effect inside Hungary.
The OSCE’s preliminary report also strongly criticised the use of public funds for so-called “government information campaigns”. The electoral process was “characterised by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis”, it said.
With just two weeks to go before the vote, thousands of anti-migrant billboards appeared that were theoretically unrelated to the campaign. They featured a long line of migrants, emblazoned with the word STOP. The same photograph was used in Ukip’s controversial “breaking point” poster during the UK’s Brexit referendum campaign.