In this year’s April parliamentary elections, more Hungarians living abroad without an established Hungarian residence are eligible to vote than in 2014. A political campaign was even launched against their voting rights, and domestic public opinion polls show that a slim majority of people reject the idea that those who do not live in Hungary should be able to vote in elections. Recently, Hungary Today’s Gábor Sarnyai spoke with a representative of the National Election Office to find out mroe about how the voting rights of Hungarians living abroad differ from those living in Hungary.
It was only after great political infighting that Hungary agreed to grant citizens living abroad without registered Hungarian addresses the right to vote in parliamentary elections. By contrast, this has long been an established political practice in other European countries. Out of the EU’s 28 member-states, 24 allow citizens living abroad to vote in parliamentary elections, while in 4 countries this right is tied to one’s place of residence. In Romania, one of our neighboring countries with a substantial Hungarian minority, the ability to vote via post for citizens living abroad was already a reality in 1990. In 2008, after an amendment to the electoral law, four representatives and two senatorial constituencies were formed for Romanian citizens abroad. Citizens living abroad were first able to take part in parliamentary elections in Croatia in 1992. In 1995, an independent constituency was created for them; since 2011 this has been expanded to three mandates within the 151-seat parliament, the Sabor.
In Hungary, the voting rights of those living abroad are only unique in that there are several differences between the rights of those with a registered Hungarian address and those without one. Hungarians who do not have an address in Hungary may only vote for party lists, while Hungarians who have an address but live abroad may partake in this list vote as well as in the individual district votes. In other words, the votes of those citizens who do not have a Hungarian address are worth far less than those who have a Hungarian address; experts say roughly two and a half times less. Because the foreign votes count directly toward the list system (and not to individual seats), it is difficult to say how many mandates will ensue, but the result is that these votes will add up to the equivalent of approximately one to three representative seats.
The other big difference between citizens with registered Hungarian addresses and citizens without is that those who do not have registered residences in Hungary can vote by mail, while those who have a Hungarian address may only exercise these rights in predetermined places abroad. That is, if a Hungarian living in Romania has an address in Hungary, they may only vote at the Hungarian embassy or consulates in Romania; however, a Hungarian living in London, who no longer possesses a Hungarian address, may easily post their vote via mail. In other words, the law does not distinguish between those living in the annexed territories and those living in Western-Europe, but rather differentiates based on the address in question.
In February, the number of registered voters living abroad grew to 342,000, more than double what it was four years ago. It’s probable that the increase in the number of registered voters without a Hungarian address is due to the fact that many have taken advantage of the country’s simplified naturalization process – in the past this wasn’t a possibility – as well as campaign efforts that have encouraged participation. Experts call attention to the fact that a lot of people may have moved away, have not updated their registration, are deceased, or have simply forgotten as to where they requested their mailed ballot, so the participation of voters who registered previously might even decrease.
By Gábor Sarnyai
About the author:
Originally from Serbia’s Vojvodina region, Gábor Sarnyai holds a degree in political science from Budapest’s Corvinus University, and has worked as a journalist at numerous Hungarian news outlets.