Today we run a column by the inimitable Balint Szlanko about proposals by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party to establish voter registration and to eliminate state funding for political parties in Hungary.

Szlanko worries, reasonably, that registration will further depress Hungary’s already embarrassingly low voter turnout numbers – according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, barely 31 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the second round of 2010′s parliamentary elections. A good analysis I came across points out flaws in the proposal but also offers reasons why it may backfire on Fidesz – though they are reasons not likely to bring our columnist any comfort.

First, Hungary has resident registration, which seems to be working fine as a basis for creating voter rolls, according to the Political Capital and Social Development Institute. It’s not broke, so why are they fixing it?

Second, the institute’s information suggests that the proposal would require registration one or two months before elections, which would simply eliminate a lot of people who are not thinking that far ahead. In most of the United States and in the United Kingdom, voter registration deadlines are days or weeks before an election, not months.

Third, although Fidesz has seen its support dwindle, and this proposal would likely depress turnout, the institute says Orban’s party still knows how to get out its voters. It notes that “Fidesz has not lost any by-election where the voter turnout was low since the early 2000s.”

But here’s the other shoe: Jobbik, the scary far-right party, enjoys the support of enough well-off, educated people (you read that right) – the kind who are going to be sure to register in time – to see its hand strengthened, too. “What is more, Jobbik now possesses an organizational structure that, from several aspects, matches that of Fidesz,” the analysis reads.

Further, less-committed Fidesz voters might be infected by a sense of apathy, while those angry at Orban’s overreach might be extra motivated to register and vote. That’s really the only bit of analysis here that is heartening to either a critic of Orban or a fan of democracy.

It’s not exactly a hopeful or inspiring picture. Just a somewhat more muddled one than the notion that voter registration is a slam-dunk for Fidesz. And maybe that’s the best we can get.

Image from a video by AFP.

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email:

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