Bags of partly burnt mail ballots for the Hungarian election were found at a landfill in Targu Mures, Romania, near a motorway on March 31. The majority of ballots show support for the opposition. Hungarian opposition called on the government to invalidate all votes by correspondence, while local Hungarian parties and Fidesz called the action a provocation.
Romanian police were on the crime scene taking photos and looking for fingerprints at a landfill outside the town of 142,000 with a sizeable Hungarian minority.
The story was filed by an ethnic Hungarian journalist in Romania, who said police also collected burned scraps and leaflets. It is not yet known how many ballots were found, how many have been burnt or damaged. Romanian police said they had launched an investigation after discovering unsealed envelopes containing ballots in a field.
On social media, there is widespread speculation that the ballots found in the dump, which did not contain the second envelope required for being valid, were opened in the offices of two Hungarian parties in Romania, RMDSZ and EMNP, and replaced by ballots for Fidesz. The two ethnic Hungarian parties denied these charges and called the story a provocation by the left.
Besides the Romanian postal service, RMDSZ and EMNP also took part in distributing the ballots and if requested they took part in the collection as well.
The two parties run ads in local media in the Transylvanian region not to trust the local postal service. The company rejected these claims in a statement saying it had fallen victim to a political dispute and the ads damaged its reputation.
The incident follows similar reports by independent websites from Vojvodina, Serbia, the home of many Hungarians. The activists of the local Hungarian party VMSZ affiliated with Fidesz delivered and collected the ballot packs and activists sometimes helped in filling them out. Many critics of VMSZ complained that they were blacklisted and did not receive the ballots.
The incidents underscore the systemic deficiencies of the Hungarian electoral system. Civil groups note that the current mail-in-ballots system is flawed by nature.
Viktor Orban’s government granted voting rights to the neighbouring Hungarian diaspora in 2014. By now, more than 1mn have received dual citizenship. By last week’s deadline, 453,000 registered to vote. In the last election, Fidesz garnered 96% of the votes of ethnic Hungarians. This year, the vote of more than 400,000 votes could give Fidesz a two mandate advantage even before the polling begins on April 3.
Hungarians working abroad can only vote at consulates. Some will travel for hours to cast their ballots. This year some 65,000 registered to vote with more than two-thirds expected to vote for the united opposition.
The burned ballots sparked a political blame game. Opposition parties said it was a fraud and called for an investigation and invalidation of all mail-in-ballots. Fidesz’ first comment hours after the first reports were that the leftist opposition organised the incident.
RMDSZ and EMNP officials spoke of provocation. Hungary’s national election office (NVI) said it will launch an investigation.