The Hungarian general election in April should be overseen by a full-scale electoral-observation mission, amid fears that prime minister Viktor Orbán is skewing the vote in his Fidesz party’s favour.
If the call by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is taken up by Hungary, it would mark only the second such mission in the EU after Bulgaria received similar scrutiny in 2013.
The branch of the security-oriented intergovernmental organisation that focuses on elections, the Warsaw-based ODIHR, publishedits preliminary assessment on Friday (4 February) recommending deployment of a mission with 18 long-term observers and 200 short-term observers.
Scrutiny was needed “at all levels” of the work of the election administration including “voter registration, the campaign, including possible voter intimidation and vote-buying,” the report said.
Media coverage, the transparency of campaign finances and the effectiveness of the complaints and appeals process were other issues of concern, according to the report.
The move came after 20 civil society organisations and think tanks, 62 MEPs from 19 countries and five different political groups – from the centre-right to the far-left – wrote separate letters to the OSCE demanding a fully-fledged election observation mission to Hungary.
A fully-fledged observation mission takes longer and have a bigger staff in comparison with the standard and limited teams usually sent to EU countries.
In line with OSCE rules, the Hungarian government would have to invite the observers; OSCE member countries would recruit and send the observers, and they foot the bill for the mission.
“We are glad if international organisations have opinions. We read them. If there is something worth considering, we will consider it,” the Hungarian government told EUobserver in a written statement in advance of the OSCE announcement. “We reject that the elections should be examined from a political perspective,” it added.
‘We read them’
Hungary has been under EU scrutiny for violating the rule of law and democratic principles since 2018 – but the EU has made little progress in heading off the problem.
Orbán is accused of steering his country’s democratic backsliding in an effort to solidify his already decade-plus grip on power. His Fidesz party will face a united opposition in the 3 April election. But Fidesz wields a formidable electoral machine.
In 2018, Fidesz won its third consecutive two-thirds majority in parliament, on only 48 percent of the popular vote, due to the distortions built into the electoral system. In 2014, when it also secured a two-thirds majority in the parliament, it received 44 percent of the votes.
“The Hungarian elections will be among the most important stress tests for democracy in Europe and the EU,” the NGOs warned in their letter to OSCE.
The OSCE already concluded, after the 2018 general election, that “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate, hindering voters’ ability to make a fully-informed choice.”
A “ubiquitous overlap between government information and ruling coalition campaigns, and other abuses of administrative resources, blurred the line between state and party”, the OSCE said, setting out 26 recommendations.
“The government has not implemented any of them [OSCE recommendations]. This behaviour is what justifies the call for a full-fledged mission,” said Róbert László from the Budapest-based Political Capital think tank, which also signed the request for a full-scale OSCE mission.
Even so, László warned against over-simplified interpretations of terms such as free-and-fair elections, because there are many factors that can distort the outcome.
“Until there is a chance for the government to be changed, we cannot say it will definitely not be free or unfair, even if the playing field is very much not equal, and government-change is made extremely difficult,” he said.
But civil society groups made clear in their letter that the climate for free and fair elections had deteriorated further since the last round of elections in 2018.
They pointed to gerrymandered voting districts, concerns about ballots cast by Hungarians living abroad, and campaign resources that benefit the ruling Fidesz party.
Sam van der Staak, head of the Europe programme of International IDEA, a Stockholm-based international organisation promoting democracy, told EUobserver the issue is not so much Hungary’s electoral legislation but how the Hungarian government has “by stealth” taken over institutions.
He pointed out that the Fidesz government abuses state resources by handing out increases in pensions and public salaries ahead of elections, controlling the election committee and exercising influence over courts.
“The whole idea of this democratic backsliding, they do so below the radar, they take over where no one is looking,” said van der Staak. On “the surface they stick to the law, but cross all the ethical lines.”
Another signatory, French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, who is also in charge of Hungary’s democracy file in the European Parliament, told EUobserver that the “grave situation” in Hungary made the mission necessary.
“It was heartbreaking and disturbing to write this letter [to the OSCE], but we consider that the elections are in danger,” Delbos-Corfield said.
A particular concern is the media landscape, which is dominated by pro-government propaganda, she said.
“The oppressive atmosphere has consequences,” she said. The opposition will have “no space” and “there will be propaganda and disinformation.”
The Hungarian government sees a foreign attempt to intervene in the elections.
“The MEPs’ letter is, of course, full of distortions and indecent criticism of Hungary,” the government statement said. The “European left” wanted to “influence the outcome of the vote,” it said.
Hungary’s “sovereign policy based on Christian, traditional values” is under attack, foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said in a recent interview with pro-government Magyar Nemzet.
The “liberal mainstream” was doing “everything in their power to remove us” – including pressuring the OSCE to deploy a full-scale observation mission.
Zoltán Kovács, the government’s chief international spokesperson, recently told Euronews that warnings of a “rigged election are merely advocacy journalism at work.”
Election observation experts shrug off those contentions.
The missions are “based on a comprehensive methodology that has been developed over many years and is used everywhere we observe,” ODIHR’s spokesperson Katya Andrusz told EUobserver ahead of the publication of Friday’s assessment.
“It’s important to understand that as observers, we are politically neutral. We aren’t concerned with who wins elections, but how they win, that is to say with the process itself,” she said.
Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!
Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge
The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.
This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.
Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.
The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.
The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.
In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.
The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.
‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man
The Case Against World’s Richest Man
When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”
The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.
With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.
To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.
His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.
He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.
In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.
Brazil’s G20 Presidency Kicks Off In Rio With Foreign Ministers Meeting | International
Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 nations were gathering Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro to discuss poverty, climate change and heightened global tensions as Brazil takes on the annual presidency of the bloc.
The ministers and other representatives of the 20 leading rich and developing nations planned to spend two days setting a roadmap for work to accomplish ahead of a Nov. 18-19 summit in Rio.
One of Brazil’s key proposals, set by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a reform of global governance institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and multilateral banks, where he wants to push for stronger representation of developing nations.
Brazil’s ambassador to the bloc, Mauricio Lyrio, said at a news conference Tuesday that structural reforms of international institutions are urgent because of a proliferation of conflicts around the world — not just in Ukraine and Gaza, but in a total of 183 locations, according to one study, he said.
“We have practically returned to the level of conflicts seen in the Cold War period. This shows that there is a lack of governance to deal with current challenges,” said Lyrio, who is the economic affairs secretary at Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“It is one thing to work for peace in each conflict; another thing is to have a global governance that prevents conflicts from occurring,” Lyrio said. “We’re basically putting out fires.”
After years of diplomatic isolation under former President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula has sought to reinsert Brazil on the center stage of global diplomacy since returning to power in January of 2023.
Lucas Pereira Rezende, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said Lula was especially well-suited for the role, recalling that during his earlier terms as president from 2003 to 2010 he was once called “the most popular politician on Earth” by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
The G20 “is a very important international stage, especially at a time when the world is facing two major wars, involving large states, and also at a time when multilateralism is in crisis,” Rezende told The Associated Press.
“But Lula is a very strong international actor and has a very strong multilateral role, especially when presenting himself as a leader of underdeveloped or developing countries.”
G20 finance ministers and central bank presidents are set to meet next week in Sao Paulo, and a second meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for September.
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