National-minority voting system in Hungary contravened right to free elections

European Court of Human Rights logoToday’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of Bakirdzi and E.C. v. Hungary (application nos. 49636/14 and 65678/14) concerned the voting rights of the applicants, registered as national-minority voters for the 2014 parliamentary elections in Hungary.

The European Court of Human Rights found that the system that had been put in place to ensure the political representation of national minorities in Hungary had ended up limiting their political effectiveness and threatened to reduce, rather than enhance, diversity and the participation of minorities in political decision-making. It also doubted that a system in which a vote could be cast only for a specific closed list of candidates (i.e. without the possibility of expressing a preference for (a) particular candidate(s)), and which required voters to abandon their party affiliations in order to have representation as a member of a minority ensured “the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature”.

The Court held, unanimously, that the combination of restrictions on the applicants’ voting rights had constituted a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No.1 to the Convention (right to free elections) taken in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A legal summary of this case will be available in the Court’s database HUDOC.

Principal facts

The applicants, Kalliopé Bakirdzi and E.C., are Hungarian nationals born in 1959 and 1990. They live in Budapest.

There are 13 national minorities in Hungary recognised under the Rights of Nationalities Act. Ms Bakirdzi belongs to the Greek national minority and E.C. to the Armenian national minority. Under the Fundamental Law of Hungary, national minorities have to be able to participate in the work of Parliament. On that basis, the Election Act introduced a system of minority representation in 2014, whereby self-identified members of national minorities may register as national-minority voters. They vote for the lists of the national minority they belong to and for single-member district candidates, whereas other voters vote for a candidate in a single-member district and for a party list.

Each national minority has a closed candidate list on a separate ballot. The minority voter’s only possibility is to vote or not vote for the single list of his or her national minority (with no influence on the candidate order). Under the Election Act, the national-minority lists benefit from a preferential threshold – that is they need fewer votes to gain a seat in Parliament – i.e. one-quarter of the number needed for the ordinary electoral lists. In the 2014 elections, the threshold to gain a seat for national-minority candidates was 22,022 votes (dividing the total number of national votes cast by 93 – the number of seats that could be acquired from the national list – then dividing by four).

All 13 recognised national minorities registered lists for the 2014 elections, and a total of 35,289 voters registered as national-minority voters. None of the national-minority lists obtained enough votes to win a national-minority seat.

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