The gap between politics and people is ever-widening in Hungary. The participation rate at elections is stagnating or even falling, and young people are increasingly turning away, saying “It doesn’t make any difference”. Some people, though, want to make a change.
Bertram Marek is young and very ambitious about his professional future. “I would like to be a politician because I would like to change something about this country,” he says. Such comments may not really be taken seriously when coming from a student, because what could they possibly change without the support of a political party or the necessary experience? Still, this young man has stirred up quite a storm and the final consequences are not clear yet.
Marek has accused the newly founded and previously completely unknown parties of exchanging the signatures that candidates need in order to stand. According to him, when someone signed the sheet of one party it would then be copied by the other parties. He names the green Zöldek Pártja, Hungarian Gypsy Party MCP, JESZ (Jólét és Szabadság Demokrata Közösség-Welfare and Freedom Democratic Community) and KTI, led by former parliamentary president Katalin Szili.
The anti-corruption department of the capital police is investigating.
It is a fact that none of these small parties had ever made an appearance until April’s national poll. On Facebook – which is a good media to measure social activity in Hungary – they mainly formed only last autumn. For instance, KTI registered on the social network in October and MCP two months later.
The number of hits is a clear indication too: KTI has only 17,800 likes and MCP fewer than 4,000. Still, both parties managed to field 47 and 50 candidates respectively, and for each candidate 500 signatures are necessary. This would mean that the KTI managed to collect 23,500 signatures and MCP 25,500, all within two weeks. That’s an impressive performance, which is openly doubted by Marek.
It is true that citizens could have supported several candidates but still this was a logistical challenge. Neither KTI, MCP nor JESZ deny they had paid help to collect signatures, otherwise this would have been impossible for such small parties.
However, the young political activist is not questioning the legitimacy of the paid workers, rather their methods. He asserts: “It all began when the MCP party leadership learned that Dániel Deák got too few signatures. However, it was essential for the party that he as a Hungarian (not of Roma origin) represented the colours of the MCP. Their aim, to represent the Roma problem as the problem of the whole society, would have been more credible with his help.”
Next Monday all hell broke loose in the office: a high-ranking representative from the party was on the phone the whole day and soon after the reckless copying started, Marek alleges.
First the parties had only taken names from the other lists, then two girls had said on TV that they were contacted by JESZ activists to forge signatures, and finally lists of names had been copied wholesale, cut up into segments and distributed around.
Marek says he collected proof and went public, including contacting some people whose signatures he believes were forged. He has a video of these visits. In one, an old man sits at a table with a list of possibly forged signatures spread in front of him. “The details (name, address) are right but this is not my signature,” he says. “I have not signed for any of the parties. These details here can be copied from the phone book. My personal ID number is not right either.”
Marek has filed accusations against five small parties. “The lists with the signatures have to be kept for 90 days after the elections. I am afraid that if nothing significant happens until that time, some important proof might go missing,” he says.
The accused parties are mostly silent. Only JESZ reacted to questions from The Budapest Times: “More than 1,000 activists and paid helpers collaborated in the collection of signatures with success. We do not have any reason to doubt the legitimacy of their work.”
With the outcome of the scandal unknown, who can blame potential voters if they decide not to participate, saying “It doesn’t make any difference”.