Human rights minister wants voting rights for foreigners

Photo: Kristýna Maková

The Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Jiři Dienstbier is pushing for an amendment to the law which would give non-EU foreigners with long-term residence in the Czech Republic the right to vote, first on the local level and later also in general elections. The minister argues that once the authorities have granted a person long-term residence they should also grant them the right to co-decide about who runs the city or country that has become their second home.

Jiří Dienstbier,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The laws that govern the process of granting non-EU foreigners permanent residence or citizenship in the Czech Republic are, according to the human rights’ minister, one of the toughest in the EU. People can only file for permanent residence after having resided in the country for 5 years (10 years for citizenship applications) and it is entirely up to the Czech authorities whether their request will be granted. Minister Dienstbier says that their newly acquired status should go hand-in hand with the right to vote.

“The foreigners who are given permanent residence are people whom the state wants here on a long-term basis, and I think that if we take someone into our midst so to speak, then we should also give them the right to vote. It will not only help them integrate but it is simply something they should have a say in – they should have the right to vote in local elections, and possibly regional elections, since it appears that general elections would be harder to push though at this point.”

The minister has also previously raised the question of EU foreigner rights, pointing to the fact that Czech legislation prevents them from taking part in public and political life. While EU nationals have the right to vote, they can only vote in local and European elections and due to the Czech election law they cannot enter political parties or run in the elections.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Although the minister’s arguments are persuasive his efforts to push through these changes are likely to encounter some opposition. The chairman of the legal committee of the Chamber of Deputies Jeroným Tejc argues that giving foreigners voting rights along with their long-term residence permits might demotivate people from seeking Czech citizenship,which automatically entails the right to vote in all elections, which is a greater priority for the Czech Republic.

The Interior Ministry has also shown scant enthusiasm for an idea that would require a change of the constitutional order. Asked by the daily Lidové noviny what the ministry thinks of Mr. Dienstbier’s proposal, the ministry’s spokesman pointed out that the present state of affairs is in no way exceptional and that only 12 EU member states give foreigners with long-term residence the right to vote.