Hungarian gov't, opposition both claim victory following referendum on EU migrant scheme

Xinhua News Agency


Hungary's government-sponsored referendum was held on Sunday and produced ambiguous results despite months of government efforts to convince voters to vote against European Union (EU) wishes to admit refugees to all EU countries.

Voters overwhelmingly agreed with the government and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, with 98.32 percent of ballots choosing the "no" option with 99.98 percent of votes counted, to the joy of the government.

The flip side is that the referendum was invalid. Validity would have required 50 percent participation by eligible voters, but only 43.35 percent appeared at the polls, responding to an appeal for a boycott from the left-wing opposition parties.

Both sides have declared victory. Orban voiced his delight, underlining that more people had voted against allowing the EU to send migrants to Hungary than had voted to join the European Union.

The outcome, he said, requires the government to take two measures: to amend the constitution and to make Brussels understand that a democratic decision has been made.

The right-wing Jobbik Party, Orban's only opposition party supporter, called the referendum a huge own goal. Jobbik chair Gabor Vona said there was no way to explain away the invalid vote and that the people who stayed away were sending a message to the government, not to Brussels. He called on Orban to acknowledge this and resign "since Hungary's significance in European politics had collapsed." He did, however, call for a constitutional amendment to protect Hungary from the EU quotas.

Gyula Molnar, chair of the socialist MSZP party said the only way the government could make things worse for itself was to ignore the fact that the ballot was invalid and try to act on it. That, he said, would be a clear violation of the constitution. Molnar called the publicity leading up to the referendum a shameful, deceitful, misleading, and unlawful hate campaign, resulting in "unprincipled and irresponsible panic-mongering."

The famous night scene of Budapest, capital of Hungary. Photo: Xinhua/Luo Xiaoguang

This was really not a referendum at all, he said, but a very expensive public opinion poll. He claimed that the government had spent 17 billion forints (about 62 million dollars) of taxpayer money on the campaign and demanded an investigation.

Other left-wing parties -- Egyutt, PM and MoMa held a joint news conference celebrating the boycott. They agreed that the boycott had protected Hungary's international prestige and called on Orban to resign.

Former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany of the DK party called the invalid vote a major defeat for Orban and the government. He also called for Orban's resignation.

The referendum question was: "Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of Parliament?" Voters had the option of choosing between "yes" and "no."

In all, nearly 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary last year, en route to Western Europe, mainly to Germany.