Budapest, May 10 (MTI) – Parliament on Tuesday approved calling a national referendum initiated by the government on the EU’s mandatory migrant quota scheme. Lawmakers also approved an amendment to Hungary’s referendum law that will allow multiple initiatives on the same subject to be presented to the national election office (NVI).
The initiative was approved with 136 votes cast in favour by lawmakers of the ruling Fidesz and Christian Democratic parties, and the opposition Jobbik. Five independent lawmakers voted against.
In the vote, lawmakers also approved allocating a maximum amount of 4.9 billion forints (EUR 15.5m) for the national ballot.
Appeals against parliament’s decision can be submitted to the Constitutional Court within 15 days, and the court has 30 days to make a ruling.
The referendum is then to be called by Hungary’s president within 15 days, and held on Sunday during the period between the 70th and 90th consecutive days.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on Feb. 24 that the government would initiate a national referendum on the migrant quota. The reason given by the government was that only Hungarians and not Brussels can decide who they want to live together with in their own country.
In the referendum Hungarian citizens will be asked: “Do you want to allow the European Union to mandate the resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary without the approval of the National Assembly?”
The question was submitted on behalf of the government by cabinet office chief Antal Rogan and the election committee approved it late February.
Four appeals were submitted which the Kuria, Hungary’s supreme court, rejected in early May.
Rogan last week said the referendum could most likely be held in September or in the first week of October.
Parliament amends referendum law
All petitioners can therefore start collecting the 200,000 signatures needed for a referendum to be called, irrespective of any overlaps in their questions. Once the national election committee (NVB) has certified the 200,000 signatures supporting a referendum initiative, rival signature collection campaigns have to be wound up and further questions on a given subject are no longer allowed to be submitted.
Under the amendment, the government or the president cannot initiate referendums on subjects for which signatures are already being collected.
The new rules were originally proposed by the NVB and the NVI.
The amendment was passed with 115 votes in favour, 27 against and 30 abstentions.
Leftist opposition lambast parlt approval of migrant quota referendum
The Socialist Party said it went against common sense for parliament not to approve their proposal to hold the migrant quota referendum on the same day as their two referendums. The Socialists’ referendums concern the government’s state-owned land privatisation programme and the introduction of a 2 million forint (EUR 6,300) cap on public officials’ salaries.
Lawmaker Gergely Bárándy said that the ruling Fidesz party would have had ample time to wait for the National Election Office to certify the signatures the Socialists had collected in support of their referendum initiatives, after which parliament could have voted on the three referendum proposals at the same time.
Bárándy said his party would continue its “anti-Fidesz” signature drive.
The Democratic Coalition and Együtt parties said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would use the referendum to try to “win a mandate to drive Hungary out of the European Union”. Both parties said they would stay away from the vote and would call on their supporters to follow suit.
Fidesz called on the leftist parties not to appeal to the Constitutional Court over the referendum. Janos Halasz, a spokesman for the Fidesz parliamentary group, called the referendum “one of the most important matters” in Hungarian history. He stressed that the Hungarian people should be left to decide if they want Brussels to resettle migrants in Hungary. Halasz said the referendum was “urgent” because Brussels is putting forward “increasingly aggressive plans” to redistribute migrants among EU member states. He said it was “lamentable” that certain MPs had “openly expressed support” for the migrant quota scheme by voting against the referendum.
Jobbik said Fidesz is always one step behind when it comes to the issue of migrant quotas. Party leader Gábor Vona told a press conference that a constitutional amendment is needed instead.
A referendum would have been timely in 2015 when Jobbik originally proposed it, but by now it won’t be enough. Amending the constitution could be done quickly, without having to wait until the autumn, he added. “Time isn’t on our side, with the European Commission working on new absurd proposals,” Vona said. Even if Hungarians reject the quota, if the referendum is not valid and successful, it could be counter-productive, he added.