As an important political milestone, on 3 April 2022, Hungary held the general elections of Hungarian National Assembly Members. In accordance with Act XXXVI of 2013 on Electoral Procedure (EPA), the official campaign period lasts from the 50th day before and until the end of Election Day, yet campaign activities, which aim to influence voters’ choices, presumedly start long before that 50-day term. To take concrete examples, I received a Christmas card with a picture of the united opposition’s candidate in my single-member constituency who had won the opposition primary in September 2021. Furthermore, the ruling parties’ campaign slogan (“Hungary is going forward, not backward”) was well-known since the end of December 2021, even though the official campaign period only started on 12 February 2022.
This election campaign was deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the neighbourhood. Approximately, in the first three weeks of the election campaign period (until 6 March 2022), hosting mass events (over five hundred people outdoors) was not permitted. It shall be considered as a clear restriction on the right of peaceful assembly, thereby a limitation on the enforcement of the right to vote, since it can only be exercised entirely if voters are able to gather enough information to make a well-founded decision. The lifting of several coronavirus-related restrictions was applied one week before one of the most remarkable national holidays, the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and the following War of Independence of 1848-1849, which perhaps was not a coincidence, since this day (15 March) also represents freedom and democracy in Hungary. On the day of the national holiday, both the ruling parties’ Prime Minister (who was its candidate for Prime Minister at the same time) and the united opposition held their campaign events in Budapest, where they expressed their main campaign messages, including their opinions on the war. As it may become obvious from this short summary, on the one hand, the pandemic restrained the possible methods of campaigning in the first few weeks, on the other hand, the unforeseen conflict influenced the content of the campaign messages, as it was politically unavoidable to reflect on the current situation in Ukraine.
Besides the above, campaigning via social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube felt particularly distressing, especially when the war and its socio-economic impacts were brought into focus by both sides. Either party aimed to convince voters that they are the one and only guarantee for peace, not the other political side. According to the ruling parties’ (FIDESZ and KDNP) narrative, the opposition wanted to send weapons and soldiers to the territory of Ukraine, contrary to that, the Prime Minister was found Putin’s henchman by the united opposition. In order to strengthen their messages, both sides created a great amount of Facebook and Google advertisements, even paying significant attention to each single-member constituency, by targeting voters on the basis of their place of residence, age and sex.
Modern democracy faces different challenges, and they are all interconnected to the other. The disproportionate restriction of basic communication rights threatens voters’ informed participation in the shaping of public life. Due to the pandemic, mass events were banned and thus this risk existed in the offline space, too. Then political communication was transferred to the online space, too, where content moderation is still carried out by fairly questionable tools. Furthermore, political campaigning via social media raises some serious concerns about data protection as well.
The views expressed above belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for Social Sciences.