Budapest (MTI) – A massive majority of Hungarians rejected the European Union’s binding migrant quotas in Sunday’s referendum, but as polls closed turnout was below the 50 percent-plus-one vote required for the vote to be valid.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, announcing that he would submit a constitutional amendment proposal to parliament with a view to cementing “the will of the people in the constitution”, hailed the result of Hungary’s referendum on European migrant quotas as “outstanding”, noting that the number of votes cast for the “no” side had exceeded the number of votes cast in favour of Hungary joining the EU in 2004.
In the referendum on Hungary’s EU membership, 3,056,000 people voted to join the bloc and now 3,204,000 people voted “no”, discounting the votes cast by ethnic Hungarians living beyond the border, Orbán said, adding that turnout was 15 percent higher than in the last European parliamentary election in 2014.
Orbán said the referendum outcome must be enforced in Brussels. “The question is simple,” Orbán said. “Can Brussels, the democratic community of European states, force its will onto a member state in which more than 90 percent of participating voters reject that will?” He vowed to do everything to make sure that this would not happen.
“The weapon will be strong enough in Brussels,” he said, referring to the outcome.
The National Election Office (NVI) officially declared Hungary’s migrant quota referendum invalid, as the number of valid votes cast did not reach the 50-percent-plus-one threshold. NVI chief Ilona Pálffy said after 98.82 percent of the votes had been counted that the number of valid votes was 3.2 million.
The referendum would have required just over 4.1 million valid votes for it to have been declared valid.
Ruling Fidesz officials declared a “sweeping victory”. Gergely Gulyás, deputy leader of ruling Fidesz, said that any legal decision in light of the referendum outcome would rest with parliament, but “politically the will of voters” would have to be followed.
The Hungarian government and parliament has a duty to take action based on the result of the country’s migrant quota referendum, the government spokesman said. Zoltán Kovács said voters had made their opinion on migrant quotas clear. “The share of those rejecting Brussels’ [migration] policy is significant.”
Kovács said the referendum would also place responsibilities on Brussels. He insisted that the European Commission could not act against the results of a referendum.
In the referendum voters were 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?”
Opposition Jobbik leader Gábor Vona described preliminary turnout data in Hungary’s migrant quota referendum indicating that it would be invalid as a “personal failure” for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
“This game is played for goals, and despite the advantage enjoyed by the prime minister and [ruling] Fidesz, Orbán scored a huge own goal,” Vona told a press conference.
Any move government takes based on an invalid referendum on European Union migrant quotas would be “unconstitutional”, Gyula Molnár, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, said after polls closed.
Ferenc Gyurcsány, leader of the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK), commenting on preliminary voter turnout data, said: “We won”. He said “Orbán’s referendum” was invalid, giving the “democratic opposition” an “undisputed” victory over the government and ruling Fidesz. “Orbán took a gamble with the migrant quota referendum but suffered a major loss,” the former prime minister said.
An invalid referendum on European migrant quotas will weaken the government’s position in its talks abroad on migration, the green opposition LMP said. “Not only will the government come out weaker from the situation that it created, but so will the country,” co-leader Bernadett Szél said.
Leaders of the opposition Dialogue for Hungary (PM) party told supporters gathered in front of Parliament on Sunday that “Orbán’s politics of hate” had failed. Citing low turnout, Tímea Szabó, the party’s co-leader, insisted that “Viktor Orbán’s inhumane and heartless government will fall”.
A Nézőpont Institute analyst told public television M1 that the opposition parties were deceiving themselves if they regarded those who did not turn out to vote in Sunday’s referendum on migrant quotas as their own supporters.
Samuel Mraz Agoston said around a million more voters now voted “no” than for the ruling Fidesz-Christian-Democrat parties in the 2014 general election. This shows that people saw the referendum as a national cause and did not vote according to party preference, he insisted.
He called the opposition’s campaign urging voters to boycott the referendum as “dangerous”, arguing there were now no guarantees that efforts to get out the vote in the 2018 general election would be successful.
Tamas Lánczi, analyst for the Századvég Foundation, predicted that the “no” camp would get around 3.1 to 3.2 million votes, which he said was similar to Fidesz’s share in the 2008 referendum, when the party was at the height of its popularity as an opposition party. Now, halfway through their second term in government, when a ruling party is typically at its lowest ebb in the polls, Fidesz achieved a similar result, he said.
Lánczi said that the opposition parties were “deceiving themselves” by “pretending” that those who had sat out the referendum were their voters. He said the opposition was “building a wall” between itself and voters by ignoring the votes of more than 3 million people.