War and democracy, or externalities of an armed conflict in the neighbourhood: recent challenges in Hungary

Lili Karácsony

While many countries most pressing difficulties regarding their democratic systems is still the COVID19 pandemic, being geographically close to the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, Hungary has to adapt its policies either to the challenges of both the pandemic and the newly materialized Ukrainian situation. Moreover, the forthcoming national parliamentary elections of Hungary are to be held on April 3, 2022, and a national referendum will be also organised from four questions simultaneously with the elections. As the Russian offensive began on February 24, 2022, the timing was rather unfortunate for the country, since Hungary found itself in the proximity of an extensive armed conflict just one month before the appointment of the elections. The engagement of a bordering country in a war has raised several unforeseen complications.

Similarly to the situation of countries gravely affected by the COVID19, the Hungarian National Elections Office has stated that foreign representations in areas that are critically impacted by armed conflicts may also alter locations, and in some cases make it impossible to hold elections. It can easily eliminate hundreds of voters, as in many cases, it can cause significant obstacle to be able to rapidly change location and be able to cast a vote in a country involved in a war. In addition, postal voting is only available for citizens who do not possess a domicile or registered residence in Hungary. Those who reside in Hungary can only vote in person at the annotated embassy or consulate.

Participants in the country are also affected, designated venues of numerous polling stations were relocated especially in the constituencies close to the Ukrainian border due to the immense number of Ukrainian refugees that are being accommodated in the most diverse residences such as schools, which serve ordinarily as polling stations in Hungary. Location changes create a heavier workload for the electoral committees and can cause challenges for voters as well, as it can pose obstacles to have a new polling station appointed in a relatively short time, and to inform the constituents concerned, who should adapt their plans to the amended circumstances.

The situation can become a hardship for emigrants too. There is a significant population of Hungarian nationality living in Ukraine who had lo leave their whole existence behind  to evade the war. Even if these people have their identification with them, they are most likely to be registered to vote in Ukraine. As they reside in Ukraine, they can either vote by post (which would arrive to their address in Ukraine) or in person at a foreign representation. By entering the country they will obviously not be able to cast their votes and participate in the elections, only if they can change their registration. Which leaves the country with even wider group of people who are unable to elect due to reasons beyond their control. And that is a situation that requires extensive mechanisms and efficient reactions.

March 2022


The views expressed above belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for Social Sciences.