Politics

Ethnic Hungarian Leaders Angered As Former Leftist PM Campaigns To Strip Non-Residents’ Voting Rights

The left-wing opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) party has launched signature drive to bar Hungarian citizens who have never lived in the country from voting. The highly controversial campaign has triggered harsh reactions among the political leaders of the ethnic Hungarian communities of the neighboring countries.

DK party leader Ferenc Gyurcsány, who controversially campaigned against the dual citizenship of ethnic Hungarians in December 2004, is arguing now that the voters in question do not bear the consequences of their votes. He says that people who “do not share the everyday life of the country” should not have the right to impact the lives of those who do live in Hungary.

The future of Hungary’s health-care and pension systems should not be decided from Sydney, Caracas or Székelyudvarhely in Romania

Gyurcsány told a rally on Tuesday. Though DK does not believe that with five months to go until the election Hungary’s election law could be amended, it wants the government to “hear the voice of the people”, Gyurcsány added. The former Socialist Prime Minister said, however, that DK was not aiming to strip them of their Hungarian citizenship. Gyurcsány’s campaign came after a recent survey that found that while a majority of Hungarians support granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, public opinion is split on whether they should be afforded voting rights.

The next general elections in Hungary will take place in April 2017 (photo: valasztas.hu)

With the new Hungarian nationality law, passed by the Parliament in January 2011, every person who was a Hungarian citizen or is a descendant of a person who was a citizen of the one-time Kingdom of Hungary (before 1920 or between 1941 and 1945) and speaks Hungarian may apply for Hungarian citizenship even if he or she does not live in Hungary. At time of general elections, Hungarian nationals without permanent residency can vote for the single nationwide constituency, which represents 92 seats of the 199-seat Parliament. Those citizens, who reside in Hungary, can vote both for the the single nationwide constituency and one of the 106 single-member constituencies. All in all, beyond-border Hungarians are expected to influence the fate of only a few mandates.

However, some opposition leaders such as Gyurcsány still fear that dual-citizen Hungarian voters tend to vote for Fidesz and generate further electoral support for the ruling party in next years’ elections. Many also criticize the current election law for using double standard: while Hungarians in the Carpathian basin can cast their votes via letter, expatriates living in Western diaspora must pay a personal visit to a Hungarian Embassy or Consulate in order to practice their voting rights.

Hungarians in the Carpathian basin (photo: maszol.ro)

Vojvodinian Hungarians’ reaction

In reaction to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s move, the Hungarian Civic Party (MPP) of Transylvania said that the former Prime Minister “again wants to incite hatred and wage a war against ethnic Hungarians.” In a statement issued on Wednesday, MPP said that

Gyurcsány’s latest initiative was not worthy of a Hungarian politician

Ethnic Hungarians living in the Carpathian Basin constitute an inseparable part of the culturally uniform Hungarian nation, it added. “The Hungarian government’s efforts at a cross-border unification of the Hungarian nation serve our shared interests. The state of Hungary, Hungarian society and the Hungarian communities in the Carpathian Basin are all part of the government’s national policy. As Hungarians living in areas that are no longer part of Hungary, we cannot be indifferent to current political developments, as these determine the direction of national policy,” MPP said.

MPP said that the left-wing parties that refused to accept ethnic Hungarians living in neighbouring countries as citizens “would be happy to open the country’s borders to anyone while impairing the rights of Hungarians forced to live beyond the borders”. “We deeply condemn, and consider it regrettable, that there are citizens considered as Hungarians who, out of momentary interests, act against Hungary and the Hungarian nation,” MPP said in the statement. MPP said they would never forget who turned against ethnic Hungarians at the referendum of December 5, 2004. “We want them to know that we shall exercise our right to vote,” MPP added.

István Pásztor, head of the Vojvodina Alliance of Hungarians party, told local television station Pannon RTV that as prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány had argued that ethnic Hungarians beyond the border should not enjoy voting rights in Hungary. At the time of the December 2004 referendum, Gyurcsány saw Hungarians beyond the borders as Serb, Romanian, Ukrainian and Slovak, and he maintains this view, Pásztor said, adding that he, too, had represented this is position on behalf of the Hungarian community in Vojvodina. However, the statement that, as far as the ruling Fidesz party is concerned, ethnic Hungarians “are nothing more than a means to fulfil the party’s power aspirations is offensive,” he said. Nevertheless, he said Hungarians from Vojvodina had undergone a number of trials over the past 25 years and could not be considered as instruments in anyone’s hands. The Hungarian community in Vojvodina and the larger Hungarian community beyond the borders are politically adult, so when they go out to vote, “and many will vote”, they will not give a mandate to the Democratic Coalition and Gyurcsány, he said.

Transylvanian Hungarians’ reaction

All parties of the ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania’s Transylvanian region have rejected the Democratic Coalition’s proposal to ban those who have never lived in Hungary from voting in the country’s election. The party leaders’ comments were published by the Transylvanian Hungarian daily Krónika on Thursday.

Hunor Kelemen, leader of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ), slammed the initiative as “an utterly flawed, manipulative and hostile step”. He insisted it is unacceptable that DK tries to divide Hungarians

for the sake of the two or three mandates coming from Hungarian minorities

Kelemen rejected the concept of barring those not paying taxes in Hungary from Hungarian elections. It was “silly” to make ethnic Hungarians responsible for the country’s problems, he said. “We can’t have a two-speed citizenship system. All citizens have to have the right to vote”, he said.

Zsolt Biró, head of the Hungarian Civic Party (MPP), called it “sad that the Hungarian opposition can find no better cause than fomenting tensions among Hungarians and yet again turning Hungarian minorities into campaign material”. Ethnic Hungarians’ right to vote in Hungary is more justified now than ever, he said, because apart from the cultural heritage, Hungarian communities in the Carpathian Basin are connected by increasingly strong economic links.

Zsolt Szilágyi, leader of the Hungarian People’ Party in Transylvania (EMNP), called the proposal “ridiculous”, saying that the impact of ethnic Hungarian votes was too little to justify a tax-based distinction in voting rights. The initiative is not surprising, as Gyurcsány “had campaigned against his own nation already as a prime minister”, he said, citing the 2004 referendum on voting rights for ethnic Hungarians.

via MTI, hvg.hu and mno.hu; featured image: nol.hu