Hungarian Parliament Alters Election Law, Stirs Protests

Hungary’s parliament voted to tighten the election law amid opposition protests claiming these changes curtail people’s basic right to vote.

Lawmakers voted 262-84 late yesterday to amend the constitution to allow citizens to vote in general elections, referendums and European parliamentary elections only if they register in advance. Opposition parties and civic groups say the registration process limits citizens’ basic rights and tilts the playing field in favor of the ruling Fidesz party that dominates the chamber. It was the second change to the constitution since it came into force in January.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungary’s most powerful premier since the end of communism after winning parliamentary majority in 2010, dismantled independent organizations, nominated party appointees to public institutions, forced judges into retirement and curtailed the rights of the Constitutional Court as he seeks to consolidate his authority. Orban’s policies, including the nationalization of private pension fund assets and enshrining tax laws in the constitution requiring a two-third majority to change them, curbed investments.

The Socialist Party, the largest opposition group in parliament, views the registration as a “needless limitation of election rights” and will turn to international forums once approved by the parliament, Zsolt Molnar, a Socialist politician said in a video posted on the party’s website yesterday.

During the vote, representatives of the green LMP party showered blue slips of paper onto government benches in parliament, alluding to the “blue ballot” elections of 1947 that were rigged by the Communist Party.

The constitution now stipulates that Hungary’s permanent residents have to register in person or electronically and those without permanent residence through the post or the Internet at least 15 days before elections.

The Fidesz party rejected opposition criticism that the registration process would favor it in elections or that it would lead to lower turnout, Gergely Gulyas, a Fidesz politician, said in an interview with public radio station InfoRadio on Sept. 26.

The poll by the Median agency said nearly 80 percent of Hungarians oppose the registration, according to a Sept. 14-18 survey of 1,200 adults. Also 75 percent of those asked believe the process infringes democratic principles.

“The mandatory registration process is simply an austerity package against free and fair elections,” Gordon Bajnai, former prime minister, said Oct. 23.

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