The Hungarian Parliament adopted a new amendment which changes the definition of residence, so that in the future a person who establishes a new residence in Hungary will not have to actually live at this address. According to the official explanatory memorandum of the law, the amendment is a regulatory response to the social phenomenon that certain places of residence no longer reflect real situations. In joint statement, human rights NGO the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) and liberal think tank Political Capital call the change dangerous because they believe it legalizes the establishment of bogus addresses / fictitious and allows electoral fraud.
The newly adopted amendment amends the legal definition of “residence” so that in the future a person establishing a new residence will not have to actually live at that address. Residence will be reduced essentially to a contact address, with only a presumption of residence.
In addition, the section of the penal code on counterfeiting of public documents has also been amended so that anyone can write an address on a piece of [private] property with the owner’s consent, or on an owner’s property, without criminal penalties – although it is obvious from the start that they will not be living there. Thus, the amendment also eliminates the sanctions for the establishment (or the complicity) of a fictitious residence.
According to the official explanatory memorandum to the legislation, the amendment is a regulatory response to the phenomenon of society in which certain addresses given no longer reflect real situations. According to data from the Central Statistical Office (KSH), more than 6.37% of the Hungarian population, or some 625,000 people, do not live in their declared place of residence. The explanation also adds that the bill follows a more lax regulatory approach of limiting the state’s knowledge of its citizens to what is necessary for the public interest.
However, in TASZ’s view, the new regulatory approach is dangerous, because the recent elections have seen several cases of people settling in a constituency to be able to vote there, without actually living at the address.
Under Hungary’s current electoral system, each voter has two votes: people residing in Hungary can vote for one candidate from the single-member constituency and one for the national party lists. People who do not have a residence in Hungary but who have the right to vote (eg Hungarian citizens living abroad) can only vote for a party list, not for candidates from single-member constituencies. The current change in the law will make it easier than ever for this latter group of individuals to use their “second vote” even by simply declaring a bogus place of residence. This phenomenon is often referred to as “voting tourism” in Hungary.
This happened in several cases during the 2019 municipal elections, where police found out and a criminal court convicted. But a large number of people were also using the practice in the border regions of northeastern Hungary during the 2018 parliamentary elections, with suddenly dozens of people registering at the same address, when it was impossible to so many people to live in such a small house.
TASZ believes that the amendment itself could be a response to real problems: there are indeed many people who do not register their change of residence by forgetting or for practical reasons. It would be unnecessary and excessive to hold them criminally responsible, as this has certainly not been done so far.
On the other hand, those who establish (or help establish) a false residence in bad faith in order to illegitimately influence the outcome of the elections, should continue to be dissuaded by law, as this is the only way to preserve the integrity of elections.
Opposition politicians: Orbán’s government legalized electoral fraud
András Fekete-Győr, who leads the liberal Momentum party list for next year’s parliamentary elections, called the amendment “outrageous”. The government has made electoral fraud easier than ever, he added.
In his opinion, this is a decision by the ruling Fidesz party to “legalize the proven illegal method of 2018 and expand it”.
Another Momentum politician, Anna Orosz, sees the recent change in the law as particularly important.
Previously at least this type of abuse could be investigated because it was against the law, but now it is not. It will no longer be possible to prosecute those who claim false residences or those who assist them.
Ákos Hadházy sees the situation in much the same way as Fekete-Győr: Fidesz has just legalized another form of electoral fraud. According to the new amendments to the law, the independent MP said that this way would no longer constitute a criminal offense for hundreds of Hungarian citizens living abroad to register their address in one apartment and then be transported by bus to vote.
The Democratic Coalition also accused the ruling Fidesz party of trying to “reinvigorate electoral tourism”. Deputy head of the DK group, Gergely Arató, said the new legislation “essentially means that electoral fraud is enshrined in law”.
In 2018, “dozens of Ukrainians” were registered in dilapidated and uninhabited houses near the border, politician DK said.
Opposition parties, Arató added, would organize a campaign to verify the authenticity of the addresses of voters registered in each constituency.
In addition, DK wants all opposition parties to jointly appeal to the Constitutional Court and demand that it repeal the law.
Photo presented by Sándor Ujvári / MTI