Non-Resident Hungarians Get Voting Rights

By EUDO CITIZENSHIP expert Szabolcs Pogonyi

In late 2011, the centre-right Orbán government completed its symbolic “national reunification beyond the borders” mission by offering political rights for non-resident ethnic Hungarians.
As reported earlier, after the landslide victory of the Fidesz party in the April 2010 parliamentary elections, the Hungarian Parliament abolished the residency requirement for access to citizenship for Hungarians living abroad (read more). The new Constitution adopted by the Orbán government in 2011 aimed at strengthening the formal legal and the symbolic ties between the Hungarian state and ethnic Hungarians living outside the borders, but it did not specify whether non-resident citizens would get voting rights (read more). Nevertheless, the governing center-right coalition made it clear that it would enfranchise Hungarian kin-minorities and members of the Western diaspora. According to one proposal, the government was planning to reserve eight seats for transborder ethnic Hungarians, who would then have obtained about four percent of the total seats in the House (read more).
The final version of the reformed Electoral Law voted into law by Parliament on 23 December 2011 reduces the number of MPs to 199 (from the current 386). According to the bill, non-resident citizens can only vote for party lists, but not for candidates running in single seat constituencies. Taking into account that the number of eligible resident voters is around 8 million, and 93 of the total 199 seats are reserved for party lists, non-resident voters will have little influence on the outcome of the elections. It is, however, still unclear how the ballot will be organized, and whether external citizens will have the option to cast their votes by mail or only at embassies. Since the law does not require residency to exercise passive voting rights (ie the right to run as candidate), from the next election onwards non-resident Hungarians may also be elected.
The Hungarian government in 2012 January turned to the Council of Europe, and asked the Venice Commission to investigate whether the reformed Electoral Law is in accordance with European civil rights. The report of the Venice Commission on the Hungarian law is due in July 2012.