A full-scale international election observation mission should be sent to Hungary, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in EuropeÂ said in a rare recommendation for a European Union member country.Â
Hungary will hold a parliamentary election on April 3 and Prime Minister Viktor OrbÃ¡n, 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 OrbÃ¡n, and critics have expressed worries about the fairness of the election process.Â
The OSCEâ€™sÂ Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)Â said on Friday that it would ask participating states to sendÂ 200 short-termÂ observers to follow election day proceedingsÂ in Hungary, 18 long-term observers and a core team of analysts.Â
â€œPreparations for the elections are taking place amid an increasingly politically polarized environment,â€ the organization wrote in a report.
The recommendation came following ODIHR meetings with Hungarian officials, politicians and civil society representatives.
â€œInterlocutors 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,â€ the report said, adding that some individuals also â€œraised concerns over the extended powers of the government to issue decrees under the current state of danger.â€Â
Last month, aÂ cross-party group of 62 members of the European ParliamentÂ called on the OSCE to send aÂ full-scale mission toÂ Hungary, writing in a joint letter that they â€œall share the concern that the elections might not be held to the highest democratic standards.â€Â
During Hungaryâ€™s 2018 election, the OSCE only had a limited mission on the ground. But its observers concluded following the election thatÂ â€œintimidating campaign rhetoric limited space for substantive debate and diminished votersâ€™ ability to make an informed choiceâ€ whileÂ government information campaigns had â€œsignificantly compromisedâ€ the contestantsâ€™ ability to compete fairly.
In its recommendation for this yearâ€™s election, the organization said that itsÂ interlocutorsÂ in Hungary â€œunderlined 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.â€
â€œThe representatives of state institutions expressed their full readiness to conduct the elections in line with the law, and welcomed observation by the ODIHR,â€ it said.