Voting…from the outside

hungarian passportI read with some interest today that some
360 000 Hungarian passports have been issued to Hungarian speakers not resident in the country since the government, in its infinite wisdom, introduced a fast-track scheme in 2010. Most are from neighbouring areas that were once part of Hungary. Most are from Romania –  a country that is already part of the EU – and some from Ukraine and Serbia. This I can understand as it will give them access to the EU and fair play to them for taking advantage of what I see as a very ill-advised and suspect move on behalf of the government.

What is a little frightening, though, is that these 360 000 people, regardless of whether they have ever set foot in present-day Hungary let alone lived here and paid taxes, will have the right to vote in the 2014 elections.  The article  in the Budapest Times reported that another 80 000 applications are being processed, which will swell the electoral roll by 440 0oo new voters. I dread to think how many will choose to show their appreciation for their new útlevélek at the ballot box and what influence these absentee voters might have.

I am reminded of my time in Oxford when my flatmate was horrified when I received a polling card to vote in the local elections. I wasn’t British. So why should I have a say in who ran the city, let alone the country. But I was living there and paying taxes, which to my mind qualified me to vote. It gave me a say.

I am now wondering what entitlement I have as card-carrying resident of Hungary with an Irish passport. I live here. I pay taxes. Does that entitle me to a vote? Does anyone know?

I have a US passport but would never in a million years dream of voting in a US election as I haven’t lived there in more than 12 years. Should I ever return, top on my list of things to do will be so register to vote. Equally, I have an Irish passport, but do not vote there either because I don’t live there permanently. Ditto re registering. From where I’m sitting, if I’m not part of the daily grind, if I’m not affected by the policies of the government, if I’m not subject to its laws, then I don’t have a say in who does what. Yes, I can have my opinion and I can bitch and moan with the best of them on the state of play in either country, but vote? That’s an honour to which I don’t think I’m entitled.

My question to other expats in Budapest: Do you vote? Can you vote? And, if so, how do you go about registering? Is speaking Hungarian a prerequisite? And is having a Hungarian passport a necessity?

9 replies
  1. anglawbp
    anglawbp says:

    EU citizens resident here can vote in local elections (no requirement for a Hungarian passport or to be able to speak Hungarian) and you should have received a letter a few months ago telling you what to do in the local elections. Sadly, I can’t find mine at the moment… When I do, I’ll copy it for you.

  2. Caroline Mercer
    Caroline Mercer says:

    I dont think that any ex pat should have the right to vote in the country whose Passport they hold, unless their absense is time limited for reasons of work.
    Theoretically I think one should have the right to vote in the country one has chosen to live in and where one pays taxes, especially if that country and ones own are members of the European Unionones

  3. Natalie Bowlus
    Natalie Bowlus says:

    I think you’re able to vote in some elections as a Hungarian resident, but not all… I know my Slovak boyfriend-at-the-time did in 2010. He is also határontúli magyar, but he said voting was contingent on residency rather than ethnicity.

    I think the Hungarian case is different from the general case of expatriates voting because these Hungarians receiving new passports aren’t expatriates but members of a diaspora community who have lived and worked in the countries they now reside for generations. As such, their fates, well-being and political views are often inextricably tied to the larger politics of the region, which may or may not tilt them in favor of nationalist political groups. In short, I think Fidesz is stacking the deck in its favor.

    As an American, I was grateful for the chance to vote in the 2008 presidential election. That being said, Americans are among the few nationalities who still pay taxes when they’re abroad. I felt like I continued to have a stake in the game, so to speak. Whether or not one feels entitled to vote when one resides elsewhere is a matter of personal conviction, but I think forcibly revoking that right (for Americans, at least) would amount to taxation without representation.

  4. Jan Kowalski
    Jan Kowalski says:

    Irish citizens of the UK who live in Northern Ireland can apply for Irish passports I believe. And the Italians have a few Senate seats who are elected on the basis of the overseas diaspora vote, to represent the views and opinions of Italians living abroad. And every French presidential campaign is now not complete without a visit from the candidate to London, where he (or she) begs for the 200,000-odd votes to be had from Frenchmen resident in the UK. It’s an odd world.

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Strangely enough Jan, the NI / Ireland thing I don’t have a problem with as except for all but two sports (that I know of – darts and soccer) we play as a 32-county Ireland.

  5. Tyrker
    Tyrker says:

    I’ve heard that a lot of Israeli citizens of Hungarian descent were interested in the Hungarian government’s fast-track scheme, as travelling on a Hungarian passport would enable them to visit some of those Islamic countries that won’t grant entry to Israeli citizens – wonder if there’s any truth to this?


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