Hungary’s political parties begin their first election test today

The most diligent political parties and candidates were all doing the same thing this morning: picking up their nomination forms, so as not to waste any time gathering at least 500 valid signatures in the country’s 106 single-member electoral districts by 5 March. This first hurdle is meant to separate the wheat from the chaff. The stakes are high for the parties. In order to field a national list and thus contest 93 parliamentary mandates chosen through a system of proportional representation, each party must successfully field a candidate in at least 27 of the country’s 106 electoral districts, spread across at minimum 9 counties and Budapest. In other words, they must gather a minimum of 13,500 valid signatures within two weeks. Even though under the system introduced by Fidesz a single resident can sign the nomination forms of multiple candidates in his/her electoral district, collecting the requisite number of signatures in a short time-frame is a difficult task. Many of our readers will remember how in the 2014 elections the youthful, energetic Fourth Republic movement (Negyedik Köztársaság – 4K) failed this first critical electoral test.

Parties that do manage to field candidates receive lavish state funding.  Each party that fields at least 27 candidates receives 150 million forints (approx. C$751,000) from the state. A party that manages to field candidates in all of the 106 electoral districts receives over 600 million forints, or just over C$3 million. While a new rule requires any party that receives less than 1% of the vote to refund to the state all of their public funding, most believe that Hungarian authorities will not end up collecting this amount from the “business parties” that are formed before elections (and disappear right after) simply to enrich its founders with public funds.

It’s worth noting that for the next two weeks, Hungarians can expect to see candidates collecting signatures in major public squares, outside supermarkets and grocery stores and near public transit hubs. That said, candidates may not approach voters in workplaces, in government departments, in schools, kindergartens, hospitals or in clinics. For the sake of expediency and clarity, the candidate is permitted to fill in the personal details of the resident offering their support (such as the individual’s full name and home address), but that person must then sign the form using the same pen.

Collecting 500 signatures is no easy task, and I would like to mention that three people who some of our readers will be familiar with from HFP or from my Hungarian-language publication, the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap, are running as candidates and will be busy in the next two weeks collecting the requisite number of signatures. They are diligent Hungarians who are running under challenging circumstances because they are passionate about issues of democracy, social justice or Hungary’s place in the western world.

First, we have Sándor Kerekes–a Hungarian Canadian from Toronto, who moved back to Budapest a few years ago and lives in Budapest’s 11th District. (One of his pieces in HFP appeared here and many in Kanadai Magyar Hírlap.) He is running as the candidate for Lajos Bokros’ Modern Hungary Movement (MOMA), a party that defines itself as fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Mr. Kerekes is running in Budapest’s 2nd electoral district. Mr. Kerekes speaks about the importance of tackling wasteful government spending, whilst improving the state of education and health care. And, of course, he speaks of restoring the republic and democracy. If you are in Budapest, you can meet with him and with Mr. Bokros on 20 February between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM at Villányi út 11, floor 2. Mr. Kerekes has been especially persistent over the past weeks (and, indeed, months) meeting with residents in public squares and outside the district’s main market.

Sándor Kerekes meets with residents on 15 February in Budapest’s 11th District.

Sándor Kerekes in Budapest’s 11th District, on behalf of MOMA.

Not too far away, Szilárd Kalmár is running as a candidate for the Balpárt (Left Party) in Budapest’s Józsefváros-Ferencváros (the 6th electoral district). Mr. Kalmár’s articles have appeared in HFP, and several others in the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap. Mr. Kalmár, a social worker in Józsefváros for the past 18 years, is running on a left-wing platform focused on providing housing and stable work with a living wage to locals. Mr. Kalmár produced a video and you can watch it here and his team has been very dedicated in putting up election posters throughout the district.

Szilárd Kalmár and the dates/times and locations where he is collecting signatures this week.

On Monday, Mr. Kalmár and his activists were among the first to appear in public squares, collecting nominations.

An activist for Mr. Kalmár collects signatures on Ecseri út Monday afternoon. Photo: Facebook.

Readers of my Hungarian publication will be familiar with the articles of Viktor Szigetvári, the centrist-liberal Együtt party’s candidate for prime minister. Mr. Szigetvári began campaigning yesterday, when he and a few dozen Együtt activists protested Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s state of the nation speech outside the venue, calling attention to the corruption scandals engulfing the ruling party and specifically Mr. Orbán’s son-in-law.

“The West is not an enemy of our homeland. It is our home, without which there is no future or growth for Hungary.  And yet, Orbán considers the manipulative and blackmailing Russian dependency as an example,” wrote Mr. Szigetvári in his blog.

Viktor Szigetvári (right) campaigning in Budapest on Sunday.

Mr. Szigetvári is collecting signatures for his run in Fejér County’s 5th electoral district and, of course, he is the face of his party in this election.

We wish all three candidates–dedicated and engaged citizens–the best in the next two weeks.

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