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article imageHungary says millionth passport granted to new citizens abroad

By AFP     Nov 15, 2017 in World

Hungary said Wednesday that a million people had been granted citizenship since the 2010 introduction of a controversial fast-track naturalisation scheme for ethnic Hungarians living abroad.

More than two million Hungarians live in countries neighbouring Hungary -- population 9.8 million -- as a result of border changes following a World War I peace treaty.

"The one millionth new Hungarian... has taken his citizenship oath," Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen said in an interview with public television.

Semjen said about 870,000 people in territories in neighbouring countries had availed of the scheme, with an additional 132,000 citizenship claims granted in diaspora communities elsewhere around the world.

The new passport holders are entitled to vote in Hungarian parliamentary elections, a right that the scheme's critics say is unfair because the dual citizens do not pay income taxes in Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who brought in the scheme after coming to power seven years ago, has also been accused by opponents of using it to gain an electoral advantage.

Almost all dual citizens abroad who participated in the last general election in 2014 voted for his rightwing Fidesz party.

A similar pattern is expected at the next election, expected to be held in April 2018, which political analysts say could prove crucial in deciding the vote's outcome.

There is a "consensus in Hungarian society and parliamentary politics" in favour of the naturalisation scheme and voting rights for the new citizens, Semjen said Wednesday.

"The (voting) franchise is the guarantee... by which they can ensure that the government in office at any time takes their considerations seriously," he said.

But critics also say that new election rules under Orban discriminate against Hungarian-born nationals living abroad, who have to vote in person at consulates while the new dual citizens can send their ballots by mail.

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