Despite invalid referendum, government claims success

Elections

Hungaryʼs referendum on EU refugee settlement quotas ended as invalid Sunday, with only about 43% of Hungarians eligible to vote participating, below the 50% plus one vote threshold. However, as about 98% of Hungarians turning up to vote rejected the quota plan, governing party Fidesz has called the plebiscite a success, and plans changes to the constitution.

Staff of the National Election Office (NVI) finalize votes late yesterday (photo: MTI/Lajos Soós).

Hungary held a referendum on Sunday, October 2, asking eligible voting citizens the question: “Do you want to allow the European Union to mandate the resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the approval of Parliament?” 

Based on Hungary’s Fundamental Law (constitution), the referendum initiated by the governing Fidesz party was invalid, as the number of people participating did not exceed 50% plus one of those eligible to vote. Consequently, the government is not required to make legal changes.

According to data published by online daily hvg.hu late yesterday, the turnout was only 43.35%. However 98.32% of those who did participate in the plebiscite rejected the EU’s quota plan.

According to data cited by Hungarian online daily index.hu, of 8,261,394 eligible Hungarians, 3,581,265 showed up at ballot boxes and 3,260,729 voted against the quota, the latter figure amounting to 39.4% of those eligible to vote. Slightly more than 6% voted in an invalid manner, rejecting both possible answers.

Government claims referendum a success

Although the referendum is invalid, with participation failing to reach the threshold, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described the vote as a success late yesterday, and said he will hand in a proposal to make changes to the constitution, saying that the will of the people needs to be enshrined in the Fundamental Law.

“The EU is a democratic community, and today, in a member state, 92% of participants said they do not agree with the proposal of the union. After all this, can Brussels force the immigrant quota on us? I promise I will do everything to prevent this from happening,” index.hu reported the prime minister as saying.

Opposition brands referendum a failure 

Opposition parties moved to brand the referendum a failure, noting that it has cost approximately HUF 15 billion, according to estimates in the Hungarian press, although the government has yet to confirm the total expenditure. Both the far-right Jobbik, as well as leftist opposition Democratic Coalition (DK), led by former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, called for the resignation of Orbán, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona said that Orbán had scored an “own goal,” and asked the governing party not to try explaining the result, but to admit failure. He once again called for Orbán’s resignation, MTI added.

According to Gyurcsány, “Orbán’s referendum” has proven invalid, and the democratic opposition of Hungary has gained a victory over the government. Gyurcsány added that in a “normal and democratic” country, the prime minister should resign in such a situation by late Sunday.

At a joint press conference, liberal opposition parties Együtt (Together), Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary) and Modern Magyarország Mozgalom (Modern Hungary Movement) said the democratic opposition has proven victorious, and called for the resignation of the prime minister.

Analysts also split in response

Analysts, similarly to political forces, seemed to have opposing views on the referendum. While the Nézőpont Institute pointed to the fact that more than 3 million Hungarians rejected the quota plan, Political Capital tagged the referendum a failure due to being invalid, meaning no pressure can be applied against Brussels, according to an MTI report.

Nézőpont said that the “stunning majority of no votes” shows that Hungarians regarded the question not as a party issue, but as one of national interest. The institute noted that in 2003, 84% of participants in the referendum to join the European Union voted in favor of joining, while 98% of voters in the current referendum rejected the EU’s quota plans.

Attila Juhász of Political Capital, however, noted that one of the most expensive political campaigns in history has not been enough to secure a valid referendum, which means that Fidesz has experienced a momentary defeat in domestic politics.

Juhász acknowledged that the high ratio of “no” votes, despite the low turnout, makes it possible for the governing party to “call the defeat a victory,” news agency MTI reported. However, the analyst added that on an international level, the referendum has been a failure for Orbán. Juhász noted that even in the case of a valid referendum, no legal actions could have been taken on a European Union level, and no compulsory quota decision could be expected.

Juhász observed that the refugee quota settlement plan has been losing support in the European Union, and if ever implemented, would most probably be subject to voluntary decisions.

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