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Hungarian top court shoots down voter registration

Hungarian voters need not register before casting their ballots, according to the country's Constitutional Court. The government had approved a new voting system in November, but the court found it unconstitutional.

Hungary's Constitutional Court on Friday ruled it unconstitutional to force country residents to register to vote.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance had approved a new voting system in November to require the nation's voters to register before the 2014 elections. That plan, however, was shot down by the nation's top court.

"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.

This ruling applies only to domestic voters, however, and the court added that voter registration for Hungarians living overseas was justified.

Proposed changes

The proposed changes would have required eight million domestic voters to register in person or online at least two weeks before elections. The court decided that Hungary's well-functioning database of citizens' home addresses sufficed, and that there was no real reason to force voters to register.

Critics believed a registration requirement would have imposed undue restrictions on a basic tenet of democracy whilst potentially discouraging some less politically engaged voters from participating the elections.

Following the announcement the Fidesz Party abandoned its voter registration plans, which they had hoped to implement ready for national elections in 2014.

But the news was a blow to the Fidesz Party and Orban, who were seen as likely to benefit from such a change, owing to their extensive network of activists who could make it easier to register voters inclined to vote their way.

Orban won a sweeping two-thirds majority in the 2010 parliamentary elections but has since watched his support fall. The Fidesz Party, however, plans to submit a new bill on electoral procedures to the legislature next month.

tm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)