BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) recommends sending a larger team to observe Hungary’s April 3 parliamentary elections including monitoring the media, OSCE said late on Friday.
Europe’s main security and rights watchdog said in a report on its website that in addition to a core team of analysts it plans to delegate 18 long-term observers to follow the electoral process nationwide and 200 short-term observers to follow the voting on election day. OSCE sent only small, limited observation missions for the last Hungarian elections in 2018, 2014, and 2010.
Since winning an election landslide in 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has transformed Hungary into a self-styled “illiberal democracy”. Controls on media and civil society groups have put Budapest at loggerheads with the European Union.
On April 3, 58-year-old Orban faces a close race against an opposition united against him for the first time. His ruling Fidesz party has a slight lead over the opposition alliance in latest opinion polls.
OSCE said in its report that aspects of the election that could benefit from further assessment included “voter registration, the campaign, including possible voter intimidation and vote-buying, media coverage of the elections, the transparency of campaign finances and the effectiveness of the complaints and appeals process”.
It said that during its talks the representatives of state institutions “expressed their full readiness to conduct the elections in line with the law, and welcomed observation by the ODIHR.”
“The media environment comprises a large number of outlets, and is characterized by significant polarization, and an increasing concentration of ownership,” OSCE said.
It said the majority of Hungarian stakeholders it spoke to for its report said “these circumstances skew media pluralism, independence of editorial policies and provide a limited diversity of views, particularly in rural areas”.
The Hungarian government denies this.
“The reality is that the diversity and balanced nature of Hungarian media is a bright spot compared to what we can see in Western Europe,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told Reuters in emailed comments this week.
The Foreign Ministry said last month that it welcomed OSCE observers at the elections, adding that OSCE had full independence in determining the extent of its mission.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Catherine Evans)