BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Ubiquitous government advertising paid by the state gave Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party an undue advantage in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, which gave Orban a fourth consecutive term in office, the OSCE election monitor said on Monday.
Nationalist Orban defied polls suggesting a tight race to score another landslide as voters endorsed his vision of a conservative, “illiberal” state and shrugged off concerns over Budapest’s close ties with Moscow.
Preliminary results with 99% votes counted showed Orban’s Fidesz party winning 135 seats in the 199-member parliament, a joint opposition party alliance with 56 seats and the far-right Our Homeland party getting 7 seats.
The election process was well run and competitive, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement. It said, however, the process was marred by what it called the pervasive overlapping of government and ruling coalition’s messaging, as well as by media bias and opaque campaign funding.
“The observation mission noted that widespread government advertisement campaigns paid from the state budget reinforced the main ruling party campaign messages, providing an undue advantage,” it said.
“The campaign itself was characterised by a pervasive overlap between the ruling coalition’s campaign messages and the government’s information campaigns, amplifying the advantage of the ruling coalition and blurring the line between state and party.”
“Whatever credibility OSCE ODIHR may have had left is now gone,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs tweeted in response to the report, dismissing its criticism of Fidesz’ media advantage.
Opposition leader Peter Marki-Zay also blamed Fidesz’s media dominance as a key factor behind the election defeat.
When asked if based on their observations Sunday’s ballot could be considered a free election, Mark Pritchard, Head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation declined to offer such judgement.
“Our time here is to assess the process of how the election was conducted… Our role here is just to observe, to analyse what we see from our observations …so it’s not to comment on the actual election itself”.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)