And you thought you had a voter registration fraud problem

European Politics, Politics

Talking with Americans about voting fraud – or more correctly: voter registration fraud – gets you roughly two kinds of answers, depending on whether you talk to a Republican or a Democrat.

Ferencvaros (Image used under CC license from Flickr user Peiboliche)

Ferencvaros, Budapest (Used under CC license from Flickr user Peiboliche)

It happens on a large scale, is a scandal, and surely indicates that there must be a problem with actual voting fraud as well. Or it’s a hype, stirred up by a losing party eager to avoid facing up to its failure; something that only occurs on a small scale and doesn’t affect the actual election results anyway.

Either way, the subject’s offered much fodder for controversy.

Well, here’s a reality check from Hungary. You thought you may have a problem?

Police probe fake candidate petition slips in Budapest local constituency

More than 2,200 fake candidate petition slips were discovered in Budapest’s ninth district, where parliamentary constituency elections are due to be held on January 11 [..].

Under Hungary’s electoral system, it is necessary to collect 750 slips showing support among the local public before standing a candidate. [..] The forgeries involved the conservative opposition Democratic Forum (MDF), non-parliamentary radical nationalist MIEP and the non-parliamentary radical nationalist Hungarian Social Green Party (MSZZP) [..].

The National Printing Office [..] has examined the slips received and found that 1,152 of those given for the MSZZP candidate had been forged while only 13 were genuine. There were 669 fakes out of 1,015 slips sent in for MDF’s candidate, and 415 fakes out of a total of 781 MIEP slips. [..]

Parties which had qualified to stand a candidate were the Humanist party, the Free Democrats, the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party and Fidesz-KDNP.

13 out of 1,152 genuine! I mean, wow.

It actually gets a little more byzantine than that. Note these paras:

Mihaly Dezsi, who failed to meet the requirements to stand as MDF’s candidate by Friday’s deadline, said he would file charges against an unknown perpetrator [..].

Dezsi, a former police spokesman, said there is suspicion that someone had gained access to databases and used personal data when filling in fake petition slips. He said the bulk of the slips had been found in the local party office’s mail boxes. They had not been collected door-to-door by party activists.

In short: was the MDF in fact set up by one of the other parties? One competing for the same votes, perhaps, or one viscerally opposed enough to the MDF to want it out of the race? Fill in enough fake slips, dump them into the mailbox of the rival party, and hope it will be gullible enough to depend on them.

To appreciate the full dose of deceit this little story offers, by the way, consider the chutzpah of the far right nationalists who use a splinter party masquerading under the moderate sounding moniker “Social Green”. (A more common practice than you might think, in Eastern Europe but not exclusively there; in the Netherlands the leading far right parties of the 1980s were called Centre Party and Centre Democrats.)

Tamas Polgar

Tamas Polgar

For bonus conspiracy theory points, note that the country’s second largest party, the Hungarian Socialist Party, is not standing in these by-elections, presumably supporting the Free Democratic candidate instead. And that the abbreviation of the Socialists (and as in much of Europe, political parties here are usually referred to by their abbreviation) is MSZP. And that the “Hungarian Social Green Party” abbreviates as MSZZP.

Were they trying to get some stray votes from the MSZP’s pensioner voter base – old folk looking for MSZP on the ballot and not noticing the extra Z? The MSZZP candidate was Tamas Polgar, better known locally as the rabble-rousing blogger Tomcat, so who knows. Kind of like spam sites buying up domain names like googgle-dot-com. The marvels of a multi-party system!

3 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jo  •  Dec 24, 2008 @8:03 pm

    Stunning, nimh.

    Not entirely tangentially, I used to think that some behaviors were built over time by people with lack of power or perceived lack of power – women and whining, for example. (All these years later, I ascribe a lot more behavior to parental or peer following.)

    I mention this since my first thought was that this all sounds pretty adolescent, new democracy ploys – just as Blago sounds adolescent to me. Well, that and sociopathic, but never mind the pejorative. Basically gaming a system that isn’t believed in.

  2. nimh  •  Dec 25, 2008 @4:16 pm

    Basically gaming a system that isn’t believed in.

    Yep – that’s a pretty astute observation, seems to me.

    Back in the 90s, the MIEP, one of the far right parties, had enough success to take it into parliament, but its support was, or seemed, really more centred around true reactionary elderly voters. But today’s flourishing far right, spanning a wide range from the fascistoid paramilitary Hungarian Guard (newly banned) past the Jobbik party to an individual agent provocateur like Tomcat, seems largely young and … countercultural of sorts. Walking along with the far right demos and watching them riot the nights I did, I got the feeling that these were largely kids who, in Western Europe, could have become squatters or something. That kind of temperament, somehow.

    And yeah, I mean – if all you know of parliamentary democracy is what has unfolded here over the last ten years, I’m not surprised some people end up feeling disaffected or downright disgusted. That a fair share simply won’t believe in the system in the first place, can’t take it seriously, let alone worthy of respect.

    OK, I don’t want to discount the role of familial and environmental socialisations; it’s not all as superficial and coincidental as that makes it seem (e.g. disaffected rebel youth in a postcommunist country turns right when in England or Germany it might as well have turned left). A little reading on the political geography of countries like Hungary and Slovakia makes it clear that a variety of political traditions, including pockets of far-right or far-left political culture, survive surprisingly consistently through the ages. Have proven to survive in this and that community or individual family even through the nightmares of fascism and communism.

    That’s also evident in the brand of far right nationalism prevalent here, all caught up in preoccupations with national grandeur, the historical trauma of Trianon, dreams of Greater Hungary, and the anti-semitism that comes along. That’s a far cry from the postmodern, wordly xenophobia of Pim Fortuyn in Holland.

    But yeah, the stalemate you’ve had here of duelling, bitterly polarised demagogueries, the rancid mix of corruption and profiteering, opportunism, empty promises and shameless lying that have dominated the last 10-15 years here, well that would be enough to create a ‘lost generation’ of sorts in any country, traditions or no. Like, it’s a farce, so why wouldn’t you game it?

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