A full-scale international election observation mission should be sent to Hungary, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in a rare recommendation for a European Union member country.
Hungary will hold a parliamentary election on April 3 and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been in power since 2010, faces a tough challenge from a united opposition alliance.
European institutions and watchdogs have raised concerns about democratic backsliding over the past years under Orbán, and critics have expressed worries about the fairness of the election process.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said on Friday that it would ask participating states to send 200 short-term observers to follow election day proceedings in Hungary, 18 long-term observers and a core team of analysts.
“Preparations for the elections are taking place amid an increasingly politically polarized environment,” the organization wrote in a report.
The recommendation came following ODIHR meetings with Hungarian officials, politicians and civil society representatives.
“Interlocutors from the opposition parties and civil society organizations (CSOs) noted a general deterioration of conditions for democratic elections, and concerns over the independence of judiciary and freedom of the media,” the report said, adding that some individuals also “raised concerns over the extended powers of the government to issue decrees under the current state of danger.”
Last month, a cross-party group of 62 members of the European Parliament called on the OSCE to send a full-scale mission to Hungary, writing in a joint letter that they “all share the concern that the elections might not be held to the highest democratic standards.”
During Hungary’s 2018 election, the OSCE only had a limited mission on the ground. But its observers concluded following the election that “intimidating campaign rhetoric limited space for substantive debate and diminished voters’ ability to make an informed choice” while government information campaigns had “significantly compromised” the contestants’ ability to compete fairly.
In its recommendation for this year’s election, the organization said that its interlocutors in Hungary “underlined the importance of the assessment by a potential ODIHR election observation mission due to the highly polarized political environment and the need to contribute to public confidence in the electoral process.”
“The representatives of state institutions expressed their full readiness to conduct the elections in line with the law, and welcomed observation by the ODIHR,” it said.