Thugs win? Referendum against Sunday closings is killed

Government

While acknowledging that Socialist MP István Nyakóʼs rights were infringed when thugs physically prevented him from applying to hold a referendum against the Sunday closings law, the National Election Committee (NVB) said his referendum will not be held, but a competing question will go on the ballot.

Socialist MPs Zoltán Lukács, left, and István Nyakó give a press conference late yesterday, after the NVB rejected their referendum initiative. (Photo: MTI/Zsolt Szigetváry)

The National Election Board (NVI), a lower body, had announced on Sunday that it would make an exception to the law that allows only one referendum at a time on any given issue, following claims that thugs interfered with Nyakóʼs filing for a referendum to oppose the Sunday closings law. Both questions submitted refer to the law that went into effect last year requiring most stores to close on Sundays in Hungary. Nyakóʼs question called for revoking the law, which has proven unpopular in polls, but the other referendum, the one that has now been given the go-ahead, would support the law, and effectively sidetrack efforts at revocation.  

On March 23, when Nyakó went to the Election Board to apply for a referendum on the Sunday closings law, "Mrs. Erdősi", who is said to be the wife of a former Fidesz mayor, was reportedly escorted by a dozen or so heavy-set men with shaved heads to ensure that she was the first in line with her submission. Nyakó claimed that he should not be physically prevented from filing, and the NVI, the lower body, agreed with him.  

But yesterday, the NVB decided by a vote of 7-5, with the head of the committee voting in opposition, that Mrs. Erdősiʼs referendum would be the only one allowed. 

At their meeting yesterday, NVB acknowledged that Nyakóʼs rights were indeed infringed, and the presence of thugs in the foyer of the Election Office building was threatening. At the same time, they said, Mrs. Erdősi had not taken advantage of the situation, the online version of weekly HVG reported.  

Zoltán Lukács, deputy head of the Socialist party, told a press conference yesterday that what he had seen at the NVBʼs meeting was "farcical" and that the body can no longer be regarded as an independent body, with the exception of a few of its members. He said that in the sessionʼs "theatrics" the president "put on a show about protecting the rule of law, but everyone knew that Nyakóʼs question just would never pass". This is no longer about the referendum but about democracy, or what remains of it in Hungary, he said. He said the Socialists would attack both of the NVBʼs decisions, the one allowing Mrs. Erdősiʼs question to pass and the one rejecting Nyakóʼs.  

In a third item on the agenda yesterday, the NVB passed the referendum question initiated by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the EUʼs migrant quota plans.

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