Hungarian election officials have reported a suspected case of voter fraud to the police, as populist conservative leader Viktor Orban battles to secure a fourth successive term in office in Sunday’s election.
Bags full of completed ballots were found at a rubbish dump outside Targu Mures, a city in northwestern Romania, where a large Hungarian minority have the right to vote in their neighbor’s elections. Romanian police also opened an investigation and said it may take legal action.
The opposition shared images and videos of partially burnt ballots, marked to support opposition parties. There were no details available about the perpetrators, possible motives or even the number of the ballots.
Ruling party Fidesz said in a statement that the opposition was probably behind the incident as a way to “achieve the destruction of the votes of ethnic Hungarians in foreign countries”.
Peter Marki-Zay, the opposition candidate, said in a Facebook post, that “Fidesz was caught red-handed with election fraud”. He added: “We demand that all cross-border mail-in ballots be destroyed immediately! . . . [Fidesz] are so afraid of defeat that they do not refrain even from the most obvious fraud. They literally wanted to trash the will of voters. ”
Orban, who has clashed with Brussels and is accused of eroding the rule of law, is already Europe’s longest-serving leader. He remains a frontrunner in Sunday’s election despite voter concern over his pro-Russian diplomacy and authoritarian tendencies.
The opposition has failed to successfully challenge Orban in previous elections but this time six parties united to put forward a single candidate. The opposition coalition is now running neck and neck against Orban’s Fidesz, according to the latest opinion polls.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has sent a full election monitoring mission to Hungary, said it would not comment on the election process until after the vote.
After a partial mission in 2018 to monitor elections, the OSCE described that vote as “free but not fair”. In a preliminary trip in January the OSCE decided to send a full team to Hungary for a month-long observation mission.
A volunteer group called 20K22 has gathered almost 20,000 election monitors – two for each of Hungary’s 10,000 voting precincts – to make sure votes are counted fairly and correctly.
Orban’s government changed the electoral law a decade ago to allow people with Hungarian citizenship to vote in elections even if they lived abroad. Orban also allowed more than a million ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, enabling them to vote in elections – a move that translated into hundreds of thousands of votes for his Fidesz party.
The rights group Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) said it would also file a criminal complaint. “The current system of mail-in voting is unfit to ensure that citizens exercise their rights freely, safely and without undue influence,” TASZ said in a Facebook post. “If it is proven, the current fraud is equal to banning certain voters from entering the booth.”