Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Now It's Our Turn To Be Arsonists

Overshadowed by the Ukrainian and Romanian elections, there is a third European vote that should concern on-lookers. There will be a plebiscite this weekend (5 December) here in Hungary that could potentially destabilize the region.

The vote is about two issues: the less contentious is about barring the privatisation of hospitals, the troubling one is about dual citizenship.

Signatures for the former were collected by a far-left (post-communist, quasi-Stalinist) party, for the latter by the far-right-tending World Association Of Hungarians - but both themes were seized upon by the recklessly populist right-wing main opposition party, FIDESZ-MPP, while governing parties proved inept or even cowardy in confronting it. (As for the first one, disregarding its disgusting proponents, if I vote I'll vote yes - though victory won't mean hospitals get any more money, and the Constitutional Court stopped a privatisation law just after the signatures were collected.)

The dual citizenship issue is not the same as in Germany: it is not about foreign citizens living in Hungary, but ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. Significant Hungarian ethnic minorities live on territories that belonged to Austria-Hungary before 1919 - above all, in Southwestern Slovakia and in Transsylvania.

There is already nationalist conflict with parties (and people) of majority populations. This would be greatly enhanced: an extra-territorial constituency will increase both fears of border change demands from Hungary, and far-right demands that Hungarians 'move home' to Hungary; while money paid by the Hungarian state for its extraterritorial citizens would inspire envy, and Hungarian minorities themselves could be further radicalised.

Furthermore, the right-wing parties in Hungary most probably support this not out of any misguided concern for the survival of ethnic Hungarian communities outside Hungary, but in hopes of these ethnic Hungarians voting for them in future elections - in EP elections from abroad too, in local ones when these new citizens move from their ancestral areas to present-day Hungary.

Yet, unfortunately, EU officials indicate that they are incompetent in the issue and won't intervene.

Unfortunately, a few years ago plebiscite law was changed thus that if the "Yes" or "No" vote gets 25% of all eligible voters, the vote is valid even if participation is below 50%. (This was a preemptive action ahead of decisive votes on European integration: those were issues with such wide support that not enough people cared to go voting themselves.) And since the "Yes" camp on dual citizenship is almost certainly more than 25% of all voters, while the governing parties failed to mobilise for a "No", it will probably be passed.

(BTW, I wrote earlier about the far right in the EU.)

UPDATE: Poll results can be released until 8 days before the vote, here are the last ones:

  • (poll A) participation promised/expected 54%/35-45%, "Yes" vote 51%/60-70% => 27.5%/21-27% of eligible voters vote "Yes"
  • (poll B) participation: promised/expected 49%/40%, "Yes" vote 48%(vs. 38% "No")/54% => 23.5%/21.5% of eligible voters vote "Yes"; whole population: 40% for, 42% against.

It's hairthin, but since "Yes" voters usually tend to be more faithful to their promise of participation, I think the second pollster's expectations are off - it could be up to 26.5%. Also, we are treated to a round of heightened populism in this final week. (Myself, I haven't yet decided whether lowering the turnout or lowering the "Yes" majority is a better goal - that is, whether I should bother voting.)


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