Under pressure, Hungary PM drops contested voting rules

Fri Jan 4, 2013 9:07am EST
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By Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's ruling Fidesz party abandoned plans to force voters to register for parliamentary elections before the 2014 poll, after the Constitutional Court threw out the measure saying it limited voting rights.

The Constitutional Court ruling and Friday's retreat represent a major blow to conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who swept to power with a two-thirds majority in 2010 parliamentary elections but has since suffered a fall in public support.

But critics have said the measure imposed undue restrictions on a basic tenet of democracy and would discourage large groups of undecided or swing voters from casting their ballot.

The ruling was the second embarrassment in weeks for Orban who has so far held an iron grip on Hungarian politics. Thousands of students took to the streets of Budapest last month to protest against cuts in higher education.

Orban's Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance approved a new voting system in November in one of the most hotly contested steps of a flurry of reforms that included a new constitution and a swathe of laws that critics say entrench Fidesz's power.

"Mindful of the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, the Constitutional Court has established that for those with Hungarian residency the registration requirement represents an undue restriction on voting rights and is therefore unconstitutional," the court said in a statement.

It added that voter registration for Hungarians outside the borders was justified.

The changes would have required 8 million domestic voters to register in person or online at least two weeks before elections in 2014. Voters currently only have to turn up at polling stations on election day to be identified from an existing state-run database and cast their vote.   Continued...

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives at the EU council headquarters for an European Union leaders summit discussing the European Union's long-term budget in Brussels November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Vidal