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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 December, 2004, 22:10 GMT
Low turnout scuppers Hungary vote
Women in traditional Hungarian dresses vote in Veresegyhaz, east of Budapest
Not enough people were moved to vote
A controversial referendum in Hungary on citizenship rights looks to have failed due to low voter turnout.

People were asked whether to offer citizenship to some five million ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary.

Election officials say a narrow majority voted for the measure but a 37% turnout was probably not enough to establish a conclusive result.

Low turnout looks to have also affected a vote on whether to ban the privatisation of state health services.

The double vote was turned into a showdown between the socialist-liberal government, which campaigned against both measures, and the conservative opposition.

It also stirred up powerful issues of identity, patriotism and economics, says the BBC's Nick Thorpe in Budapest.

Influx fears

Turnout was put at 37.4%, the National Electoral Office said on its website.

This means both the referendum on citizenship and the one on privatising the health service would probably be inconclusive, the election office said.

Results showed 51.5% in favour of granting citizenship rights and 48.4% opposed.

On the health service, 65% voted to keep the health service in state hands, with 34.9% against.

The outcome on the citizenship issue will be seen as a major victory for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany whose government argued that the offer of passports would trigger an influx of ethnic Hungarians from poorer countries like Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.

Campaigners for a no vote said hordes of ethnic Hungarians could overwhelm the country, which has a population of 10 million, seeking welfare payments and other privileges.

Legacy of war

Opposition parties said extending citizenship rights would be an opportunity to reunite the nation without changing borders.

Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and a significant part of its population when its borders were redrawn after World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

As the results became known, there were emotional scenes outside parliament as several thousand supporters of the yes vote lit candles and mourned what they saw as a lost chance to reunited the Hungarian nation.

On the health service question, the conservatives argued that further privatisation of the hospital system would increase the cost of health care and leave poorer patients unable to afford many services.

The socialist-liberal coalition government said only private investment would bring in the necessary funds to improve services.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the referendum failed




SEE ALSO:
Hungary vote angers Romania
03 Dec 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Hungary
03 Nov 04 |  Country profiles


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