BUDAPEST Prime Minister Viktor Orban urged Hungary's large ethnic diaspora on Wednesday to exercise their newly won right to vote in next year's national election, hoping they will help to further cement his grip on power.
Several million ethnic Hungarians live in neighboring Romania, Serbia and 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 Orban'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," Orban 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 labor over the past three years (of Fidesz rule)," Orban 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 percent, but analysts say this could change.
Orban has told his party to campaign vigorously for every last vote to avoid a surprise election outcome next spring.
Orban 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.
(Additional reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Gareth Jones)