OSCE sends full mission, immunity certificates extended, Budapest to host Swimming World championships, Skating federation wants investigation following Liu's disqualification

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OSCE to send full scale mission on election day

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has decided to send a full scale observation mission to Hungary for the April 3 general elections, putting Hungary yet again as an outsider, considering the fact that up to now, the only other EU member country where such a mission was judged necessary has been Bulgaria.

The prelude to the OSCE’s full mission was a call from twenty Hungarian civil society organizations, asking the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to organize a full-scale election observation mission to Hungary, accompanied by a high number of short-term observers on April 3. 

According to the twenty NGOs, the situation in Hungary has significantly deteriorated from 2018, with further backsliding on democratic standards.

The NGOs highlighted the following problematic issues:

  • Changes to electoral and other laws since 2018, by then already gerrymandered voting districts
  • Discrimination in how Hungarian citizens living abroad can vote
  • Voter-tourism
  • Vastly unfair campaign resources benefit the ruling party
  • Increased intimidating
  • Xenophobic and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric
  • Ruling party dominance in the media market
  • The occupied electoral bodies and political influence over courts
  • Further centralization of power under the guise of the pandemic
  • Arbitrary restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly and free expression

All of the above point to a grave and direct threat to the integrity of the elections. 

In addition, there is a true potential of a close electoral race, which goes hand in hand with a highly polarized society and a weak public confidence in the fairness of the electoral process.

The OSCE’s needs assessment mission studied election-related legislation in Hungary in January, at the invitation of the Hungarian government, and proposed 18 long-term observers to Hungary, to be joined by 200 observers who will arrive shortly before April 3 and leave a few days after the elections.

OSCE also recalled that contrary to their previous recommendations, campaign finance legislation has remained largely unchanged in Hungary since the last parliamentary elections. 

“One thing is certain: OSCE staff will have the chance to witness a free, fair and democratic election, but only if they do not attempt to interfere in the Hungarian elections during their mission,” Minister of Justice Judit Varga commented on her Facebook page following OSCE’s announcement.

“Judit Varga has it all wrong: the OSCE is not coming to intervene in the Hungarian elections, but to prevent Judit Varga from interfering in the Hungarian elections,” opposition MP Tímea Szabó reacted to Varga’s comments.

Hungarian government extends validity of immunity certificates

The Hungarian government has decided to extend the validity of the official immunity certificate, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said in his weekly press conference. 

“The Hungarian government will extend the validity of the covid immunity certificates for people who have already received two doses of vaccination until May 1,” Gulyás said.

This is considered an easing measure compared to the original plans, which tied the validity of the certificate to a booster shot, or to two shots administered within six months.

He explained the change by simply following “the current practice” of the European Union (EU): “Neither Brussels nor EU member states have tightened existing travel regulations due to the emergence of the Omicron variant, and the government does not want Hungarians to be subjected to stricter rules than other EU citizens.” 

The decision comes at a time when the 5th wave of the pandemic peaked in Hungary: “Although the virus is spreading much faster in the fifth wave, neither the number of hospitalizations nor the number of deaths is even close to that of previous waves,” he added.

Virology expert Miklós Rusvai said that the Omicron variant - especially its “sneaky” variant, the BA2 -  was much more contagious but less lethal than all previous versions, helping the population to get immunized with less cost to the health system.

“We see that the number of people needing hospital care of ventilators is much less than under the previous waves, and getting infected after getting the vaccine is the online way for the body to create a threefold defense, at the level of the mucous membrane, besides the cells and the antibodies,” he explained.

Hungary on Thursday reported 12,885 covid-19 cases in a 24-hour span, raising the national total to 1,684,432.

In the past 24 hours, 99 people have died from the disease, taking the toll to 42,269 in the country, while 1,410,550 have recovered. Currently, 5,198 patients are being treated in hospitals, including 198 on ventilators, figures from the government's coronavirus information website showed.

As of Thursday, 6,376,902 people have received at least the first shot of a vaccine, while 6,127,609 had two jabs, and 3,746,680 got their booster shot, according to the website.

Budapest to host extraordinary Swimming World Championships in June

Budapest will host an extraordinary FINA World Championships in the summer, the International Swimming Federation said Monday.

Budapest will be the host of the championships from June 18 until July 3, according to the international organization.

Hungary already hosted the FINA World Championships in 2017.

The agreement on hosting the world event ensures athletes have a global aquatics championship to target in the summer of 2022, FINA said. The agreement was signed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and FINA President Husain Al-Musallam.

"We know we need to be imaginative in our approach in navigating through the current health crisis for our athletes. Today's agreement is a testament to this work," Al-Musallam was quoted as saying by FINA.

"We are extremely fortunate to have event hosts that share our passion for aquatics and have the willingness, capability and flexibility to organize FINA's most prestigious event. We are deeply grateful to all our hosts and know that aquatics athletes feel the same way," the FINA president added.

FINA World Championships are set to feature five FINA aquatics disciples: swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming and open water swimming.

Last week, FINA announced that the 19th FINA World Championships, initially scheduled to take place in Fukuoka, Japan, on May 13-29, 2022, were rescheduled for July 14-30, 2023.

The measure was taken "due to the current health impacts of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and the pandemic measures currently in place in Japan," FINA said. 

The administration of Budapest only learned from the media that there would be a World Cup in the capital again.

Local daily Népszava (left) asked the general deputy of the mayor Ambrus Kiss about the new World Water Championships in Budapest: “The government did not consult with the local government of Budapest in any way in advance about hosting the World Water Championships. We only learned about the commitment from the media. "

“Balázs Fürjes, the Secretary of State for the Development of Budapest and the agglomeration gave a brief briefing on the government decision on Monday after the news appeared,” Kiss added.

Hungarian Olympic Committee wants ethical investigation in the case of Sándor Liu Shaolin

The Hungarian Olympic Committee (HOC) and the Hungarian National Skating Association (MOKSZ) announced in a joint statement that they had formally initiated a review of the Beijing Winter Olympics men's 1000-meter speed skating final and called on the leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to initiate an ethical investigation.

The 1,000-meter race for men’s short-distance speed skaters was held at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Monday.

Sándor Liu Shaolin and his younger brother, Liu Shaoang, and three other Chinese competitors made it to the finals. Sándor Liu Shaolin won the tense final on the ice, but he was disqualified by the judges. 

Although the Hungarian team had filed an appeal against the decision, it was rejected by the International Speed Skating Federation.

The gold medal eventually was given to China’s Zen, and Liu Shaoang won the bronze medal.

The HOC and the skating federation want a review not only of the result but also demand an ethics investigation against the chief judge of the competition.

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