2016-10-03 09:30:00

Hungarian referendum invalid; Most vote against EU refugee plan

(Vatican Radio) Hungary's government-sponsored anti-migration referendum has been declared invalid because of low turnout, though citizens participating in it overwhelmingly rejected the mandatory European Union quota to relocate asylum seekers among member states. Less than half of 8.3 million eligible voters bothered to cast ballots after several opposition groups urged Hungarians to boycott Sunday's referendum. 

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

Official results showed that roughly 98 percent of the more than three million voters casting valid ballots backed the government. The referendum asked: "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?" 

Most voted "No", against EU plans to resettle at least 160,000 migrants fleeing war and poverty among member states, even though Hungary would have to accommodate just some 1,300 people. However four percent of the votes were spoiled, twice as many as during other referenda held in recent years, further driving down the turnout to about 40 percent.

That is far below the 50 percent-plus-one-vote threshold needed to make the referendum valid. It came as a major political setback for anti-migration Prime Minister Viktor Orbán whose government spent at least 16 million euros on a campaign urging Hungarians to turnout with posters such as: "don't risk. Vote No on October 2".

Yet Orbán tried to sound upbeat when talking addressing supporters in Budapest. "Nine out of ten voters who participated voted for Hungary. They voted for Hungary's rights." He stressed that Hungary "is so far the first and only EU nation expressing its opinion [with a referendum] about the immigration question."

Battle in Brussels

Orbán claimed that the referendum outcome gave him enough ammunition to battle in Brussels over immigration and said he would ask Parliament to amend the Constitution to accommodate voters' anti-migration views. However several opposition politicians said the fact that the vote was invalid showed that many people had lost trust in Orbán's policies and urged him to resign.

It also came as a victory for groups such as the conservative Movement for a Modern Hungary party. Its leader, Lajos Bokros, was among those who had called for a boycott of Sunday's vote. "This referendum is destroying the remaining dignity and international standing of Hungary, because it is based on a government-orchestrated xenophobia" he told Vatican Radio.

Bokros, a former minister of Finance, said that the "very question that the government formulated is absolutely horrendous because the European Union does not have any plan to settle forcefully or otherwise illegal migrants."

He added: "On the other hand Hungary has every obligation to accept refugees because Hungary is a signatory of all this UN contracts which obliges this country to do so."

Nearly 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary last year while making their way toward more prosperous and welcoming Western European nations. Razor-wire fences erected on the border with Serbia and Croatia, along with thousands of security forces and new expulsion policies, reduced the numbers significantly this year.

Breaching border area

Last month, police reported either zero or just one migrant breaching Hungary's border area on 13 different days.

Hungary last year rejected over 80 percent of the asylum claims made in the country, one of the highest rates in the EU, reported Eurostat, the EU's statistical office. The country granted asylum to just 508 refugees but rejected 2,917 applications and had nearly 37,000 claims still being processed.

Orbán had hoped his tough-stance on migration would translate into a valid anti-migration referendum. Critics saw the invalid referendum as a test for the 2018 elections and suggested that many voters had abandoned Orbán's Fidesz party.

Yet with the opposition divided over policies and prime ministerial candidates, Orbán remains a strong leader, despite suffering his first major defeat in years.

All the contents on this site are copyrighted ©.