Ferenc Gyurcsány, president of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), announced a “new phase” in the party’s 2018 election campaign. DK activists will collect signatures of people who agree with DK’s resolute opposition to the right of dual citizens who have never lived in Hungary to vote in Hungarian national elections. DK has been relentless in its opposition to the 2011 law, which it opposes on the grounds that only those people should vote who will directly bear the consequences of their decision.
Let’s make clear at the very beginning that no DK politician seriously thinks that this signature drive can have any impact on the current law. Instead, it was designed to serve political purposes. First, the signature drive allows the party to be visible. It will certainly give the party more exposure than the party’s forums, where a hundred or so people gather, most of whom are already DK sympathizers. Second, a signature drive will add tens of thousands of signatures and addresses to the party’s database. And third, it distinguishes DK from the other left-of-center parties that all believe that opposing the voting rights of non-resident Hungarian citizens is far too risky. It would alienate those Hungarians who live in Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. And the government parties will call them traitors to the national unification efforts launched by Fidesz in 2010.
Surely, Gyurcsány must have known the kind of abuse he would get from abroad as well as from Fidesz and, to some extent, from Jobbik. Yet he decided that the advantages of such a signature drive far outweigh its disadvantages. In 2014, 95% of votes from the neighboring countries were cast in favor of Fidesz and perhaps 2% for the left-of-center parties, which in the eyes of the very conservative Hungarian voters in the neighboring countries are already considered to be traitors to the national cause. On the other hand, DK might endear itself to the overwhelming majority of Hungarian voters who strongly oppose voting rights for dual Hungarian citizens.
In August of this year Publicus Intézet published a comprehensive poll on the attitudes of resident Hungarian citizens toward the rights of Hungarians living outside the current borders of Hungary. The results cannot be clearer. While 68% of Hungarians think there is nothing wrong with granting citizenship to members of the Hungarian minorities, they have grave objections to granting them voting rights. When it was pointed out to the respondents that these people don’t pay taxes yet they are allowed to vote, only 18% of the population was in favor of granting voting rights to them. Of course, Fidesz voters were more enthusiastic than those of the other parties, including Jobbik, but still 50% of them objected to what they consider a “free ride.” Thus, gathering signatures will probably not be very difficult.
Some analysts consider the signature drive a very clever political move. Among them are Dániel Mikecz of the Republikon Intézet and, to my great surprise, Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who is normally highly critical of Gyurcsány. The former is certain that this “radical” move will mobilize not only DK voters but sympathizers of MSZP as well. Gyurcsány will be fiercely attacked by Fidesz, but he is already hardened on that score. The issue can distinguish DK from the other left-of-center parties with an easily recognizable and strong political profile. It may allow DK to call attention to the real danger of a two-thirds majority with the help of votes coming from abroad. In 2014, 130,000 foreign votes gave the one extra seat in parliament that was necessary for Fidesz to achieve the much desired two-thirds majority. At that time, only half a million new citizens had been added to the voter rolls, but by now the number is close to one million. So, it can easily happen that the Fidesz parliamentary faction will gain two or three extra seast as a result of the vote coming mainly from mostly Transylvania.
The government is doing its best to make sure that the foreign vote will be large. A special commissioner was appointed whose single task is the organization of the election abroad. This is in addition to another commissioner who makes sure that as many individuals ask for citizenship as possible. Mikecz reminds his readers of the infamous speech of István Mikola in 2006 when he was Fidesz’s candidate to become deputy prime minster. He said that “if we can win now for four years, then we will give citizenship to five million Hungarians, and when they can vote, we will be set for twenty years.” And since, according to many analysts, the best the left-of-center opposition can achieve in 2018 is to prevent a huge, supermajority Fidesz win, a campaign against the voting rights of dual citizens can keep the issue alive.
Zoltán Ceglédi is no friend of Ferenc Gyurcsány, but now he defends him because the other seven parties came forth under the banner of Márton Gulyás’s Közös Ország (Common Country) with a proposed electoral law that would give extra two mandates to the dual citizens outright, regardless of the number of votes. Momentum and Együtt went so far as to propose the creation of two extra districts, which would allow the voters in the neighboring countries to vote not only for party lists but also for local candidates. Given the strength of Fidesz domestically, the prospect of two or three seats coming from abroad should be truly frightening to the opposition.
Zsolt Semjén, whose chief job is to gather new citizens and new voters, is working assiduously. Viktor Orbán has already sent off a letter to all new dual citizens. An incredible amount of money is being spent abroad, for which the Hungarian government “is asking for and getting votes.” According to Ceglédi, “one mustn’t be mum about this.” Ceglédi believes that the opposition is doing Orbán a favor when it supports this idea under the false notion of “a common country” with people who have never set foot in Hungary and who “just mail their votes for Viktor Orbán.”
On the other side, Csaba Lukács, a journalist for Magyar Nemzet and a native of the Szekler district in Transylvania, is certain that Gyurcsány’s campaign is good only for Fidesz. He is sure that Hungarians living in the neighboring countries will be even more determined to vote after DK’s campaign. In his opinion, Gyurcsány is discrediting the entire left. His only goal is get a few more votes in order to squeeze his party into parliament. In Lukács’s opinion, the votes coming from abroad are neither here nor there. First of all, these people have only “half a vote” because they can vote only for the party list, not having districts of their own. And one seat out of 199 is nothing to make a fuss about. What Lukács forgets to mention is that “this one measly seat” gave Fidesz a two-thirds majority in 2014.
Another Transylvanian, Miklós Gáspár Tamás, TGM as he is known in Hungary, is convinced that Gyurcsány is a “bad politician,” as he has proved again and again. He admits that “it is somewhat unusual that people who have never lived in a country and have no intention of moving there and pay no taxes” can vote, but just because something is unusual does not necessarily make it incorrect, unreasonable, or illegal. “To reject these compatriots of ours just because they are partial to one particular Hungarian party is selfish and petty.” Gyurcsány “foments hatred … ignores or belittles the Hungarian nationalities in the successor states, which is intolerable. His madness and provocations are distasteful.”
So, that’s where we stand. We will see whether Gyurcsány is “a genius,” as the political scientist Gábor Török called him a few days ago, or a really bad politician whose latest move was most likely celebrated in Fidesz circles, as Csaba Lukács and TGM claim.