Prime Minister Viktor Orbán urged Hungary's large ethnic diaspora yesterday (6 November) to exercise their newly won right to vote in next year's national election, hoping they would help to further cement his grip on power.
Several million ethnic Hungarians live in neighbouring Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and elsewhere, descendants of Hungarians who found themselves outside their homeland when the country's borders were redrawn at the end of World War One.
Using a change in citizenship rules pushed through by Orbán's conservative Fidesz party, nearly half a million members of the diaspora have applied for Hungarian citizenship, which gives them the right to register to take part in elections, including a parliamentary vote expected next April or May.
"I would like to ask you to urge and encourage the Hungarian diaspora to vote, and for them to find a way … to sign up and take part at the coming election in Hungary," Orbán told representatives of the diaspora at a meeting in parliament.
"It is our shared responsibility not to waste all those achievements and the opportunities that we have created for the Hungarian nation with very hard, sweaty labour over the past three years (of Fidesz rule)," Orbán said.
"I count on your support just like you can count on the support of the Hungarian government and my personal support."
Hungarian National Election Office data show about 50,000 people from the diaspora have so far signed up for the 2014 vote. They can now also register for the elections online.
That figure is dwarfed by Hungary's eight million domestic voters, but many of them are still undecided and some political analysts say diaspora voters could play a significant role if they turn out in large numbers and the election proves tight.
Opinion polls show Fidesz is well ahead of its rivals on 27%, but analysts say this could change.
Orbán has told his party to campaign vigorously for every last vote to avoid a surprise election outcome next spring.
Orbán took power in 2010 with a two-thirds majority that allowed his party to rewrite the constitution and major laws and follow unorthodox fiscal policies, drawing criticism from the European Union and from foreign businesses.
The new Hungarian constitution, adopted in 2012 by a super-majority of the ruling Fidesz party, is seen by critics as a eulogy to the country's Christian roots and past greatness.
The new constitution’s preamble is followed by the subtitle "God Bless Hungarians," the first sentence of the Hungarian anthem and a reference to the many Hungarians who became citizens of neighbouring countries following the collapse of the Habsburg Empire.
This, according to critics, represents a significant claim that could be invoked to give Hungarians beyond Hungary's borders citizens' rights and even issue them citizenship.
Slovakia and Romania have repeatedly complained of irredentists statements and plans by Hungarian politicians vis-à-vis the ethnic Hungarians living in these countries.