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Debate: Should voting rights be extended to Hungarians abroad?

9 November 2011 Szerző: Címkék:, Nincs komment

Every state has the right to decide whether they wish to grant the right to vote to their citizens residing abroad. Throughout Europe, there are different responses to this problem depending on circumstances, history and the geopolitical environment. As Hungary is drawing up its new electoral system and considers offering the right to take part in parliamentary elections to Hungarians living abroad, the issue of out-of-country voting was the next on the Common Sense Society’s debate agenda. The debate held on November 2, 2011 featured two guests from Slovakia, Lucia Papayova (Anton Neuwirth Kollegium) and Ákos Melecske (Roundtable of Slovakian Hungarians) and two debaters from Hungary, András László Pap (CEU) with Péter Józsa (HHRF). 

It was not long after passing the Hungarian citizenship law that the politics ofHungaryand its neighbouring countries came to intertwine once again around a vital issue: the possible extension of voting rights to non-resident, ethnic Hungarians, spread across the Carpathian basin and around the globe.

The strongest arguments in support of out-of-country voting are the idea of empowering the Hungarian diasporas through suffrage and the historical commitment of ethnic Hungarians to their homeland. Central-Eastern Europe is well-known for its checkered past involving redrawn borders, land swaps, population changes and the vicissitudes of minority existence. The proposed concept of out-of-country voting aims to serve as a regional, ex post facto pacifier. Those ethnic Hungarians who have remained outside the borders ofHungary have paid a high price for having been on the wrong side of history and many feel disenfranchised when it comes to Hungarian parliamentary politics.

Non-resident Hungarians are affected by the actions and legislation of the Hungarian state especially in foreign policy matters, and having a say in this process would lead to their greater empowerment as opposed to them simply being on the receiving end of frequently paternalistic measures. Even though there are non-parliamentary political forums, the debaters argued that they are ineffective. They have also argued that too much emphasis on taxation and its relationship to representation distorts the debate since it reduces politics to economics and disregards the many familial, emotional, and work ties that bind ethnic Hungarians to theRepublicofHungary.

Opponents of extended voting rights have expressed staunch support for “no representation without taxation” and has been generally wary of the possible ethnic and intra-community tensions that the extension of voting rights could bring about. Most of the issues debated and legislated in the Hungarian parliament (e.g. media law, same-sex marriage) have no bearing on the life of non-resident citizens. Even if conceded that ethnic Hungarians in some ways will always be affected by Hungarian politics, the desirability of extra-territorial voting rights is questionable. Civil society organizations, bottom-up initiatives, and EU institutions present more efficient political channels for these people. There is also the likely possibility of harming bilateral relations withHungary’s neighbours (local politicization of the voting rights issue or the export of Hungarian domestic party politics), in addition to the very real tendency for ethnic Hungarians’ abroad to feel an increasingly political disconnect from their country of residence.

Taking a keen interest in other countries’ political life is not a sufficient reason to grant people voting rights. In this era of internet and other communication technology, it is increasingly easy to keep up with world politics; yet, the idea of expansive suffrage does not follow naturally from this technological advance. It is the sovereign right of every state to determine the nature of its voting system and exclude even groups of residents on justified grounds (e.g. minors, convicts). The proposal of the current Hungarian government has also failed to garner majority backing. According to a Medián public opinion poll, support for the concept currently stands at 17 percent. Furthermore, the position of ethnic Hungarians is largely unknown and they are underrepresented in this rushed decision-making process.

In short, the opposition has remained sceptical about the benefits of voting rights and argued that it would probably bring more harm than good. For the supporting side, such law would mean greater democracy and ameliorating living conditions for ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries. In the end, all debaters managed to showcase a variety of valuable arguments and prove that emotionally-charged topics like this can be tackled with respect and reasoned arguments.

By Zsófia Göde

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