Cultural autonomy and territorial federalism: two voting options for Hungarians in Transylvania

UDMR advocates decentralization, local self-government and cultural autonomy, struggles to retain votes in order to remain the main voice of Hungarians in Bucharest · PPMT proposes to establish an own parliament and government in Transylvania and a Hungarian majority autonomy in Szeklerland · Both parties make calculations on how to overcome the threshold in Romanian elections

It's only one month left for parliamentary elections in Romania and Transylvanian Hungarians are confronted to a key decision about what message they send to Bucharest: do they continue to support moderate claims for cultural autonomy and progress for the Hungarian language, or rather they call for their own assembly within a federal system?

Schematically explained, these are the two different models advocated by parties that are set to fight for the votes of Transylvanian Hungarians. Opinion polls predict a majority of the governing coalition of Social Democrats and Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta. If so, ethnic Hungarian parties will find it very difficult to have any kind of influence on the goverment (Ponta possibily won't need any parliamentary support). But within Hungarian ethnic community it will be important to see which model beats the rhythm of of Hungarian nationalism in Transylvania over the coming years.

Until now, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR, Romanian acronym) has been the party that has capitalized most votes of Transylvanian Hungarians. UDMR proposals are markedly moderate: the party focuses on local and provincial autonomy rather than claiming any kind of territorial self-government for Hungarians, and its has been careful when asking for changes in Romania's language legislation: the party has preferred to negotiate (and in some cases they have had success) small improvements in the status of Hungarian, and it has proposed a term of twenty years in order to achieve full official status for the language.

But a very different approach is to be found in the programme of the new People's Party of Hungarians in Transylvania (PPMT, Romanian acronym), which advocates for the conversion of Romania into a federal state. As its vicepresident Gergely Balasz explained earlier this week, PPMT would like to establish a regional parliament and government in Transylvania's capital city Cluj and would like to see the official use of Hungarian in justice and police administrations guaranteed. Moreover, the party calls for a specific territorial autonomy for Szeklerland, a region in Eastern Transylvania where Hungarians are the majority ethnic group (in other areas of Transylvania, except for those bordering Hungary, they are in a minority position).

According to 2002 Romanian census, Hungarians make up 76% of the population of Szeklerland, 20% of Transylvania and 6.5% of Romania (click the map to see the territorial distribution of Magyars in Transylvania).

Overcoming 5% threshold

There is a very old debate among Transylvanian Hungarians on whether or not to split their votes between two or more parties. Romanian electoral law says that only parties exceeding 5% of total votes in the whole of Romania are allocated seats in Parliament. Only UDMR has been traditionally able to overcome the threshold, and opinions polls suggest that they will continue to do so in 2012.

Nevertheless, PPMT recalls that there is an exception to this rule: parties can enter Parliament if they get the most votes in at least six electoral districts for the Congress and in three for the Senate (out of 315 and 137, respectively). Federalists are convinced that they can enter Parliament thanks to this alternative system, without needing that UDMR loses too many votes and falls below 5%.