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Oct 03, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Q&A on Hungary’s referendum results

3.3 million voters said “no” to the mandatory migrant relocation scheme in a national referendum in Hungary yesterday. This unprecedented level of support for the government’s position sends a clear message to Brussels: “Nothing about us, without us.”

In a statement last night and in an address in the Hungarian Parliament today, Prime Minister Orbán spoke about the results and what the government plans to do next. Here’s a rundown, drawing on questions frequently asked about the referendum and the results.

Why was the referendum necessary and, considering the result, was it successful?

“The goal was to clarify the position that Hungarians prefer in the case of mass migration,” Prime Minister Orbán said. “The referendum clarified that Hungarians want to decide who Hungary would take in.”

“There was only one honest solution,” he continued, “let Hungarians decide what they want: Who may live on the territory of Hungary? Is it up to Brussels or Budapest to decide on this?”

To that very straight-forward question, Hungarians gave a clear answer. The prime minister added that the referendum was “historic” because “in the EU, Hungarians were the first to be asked, and so far the only ones, on the migration issue, [something] on which the future of EU may depend.”

Was the referendum successful regarding the numbers?

“98 percent of the participants – if considering those, who voted invalid, 92 percent – expressed the opinion that the decision belongs to Budapest [and not to Brussels] and this right should be fought for,” Prime Minister Orbán said today in a plenary session of the Parliament.

From this day on, “not the opinion of the government and not even the will of the representatives of the Parliament, but 3.3 million people’s will is represented in Brussels,” he emphasized, adding that “since 1990 no single party or party alliance has received a mandate like that which Fidesz-KDNP received yesterday, and that is binding.”

The prime minister also underlined that the number of people that voted no in yesterday’s referendum is higher than the number of people that voted for Hungary’s joining the EU. Furthermore, one million more voters sided with the government on this issue than the number who voted for the governing parties in 2014.

Is the referendum valid, considering that the voter turnout did not reach the threshold?

“There are some who try to degrade, nullify the will of 3.3 million voters,” the prime minister said. “However, not one single, honest, elected representative shall let this [will of the voters be] overridden.” He added that although the referendum is not legally binding for the Parliament, it may legally proceed with it nevertheless.

But what about those who didn’t vote?

“Those who stayed at home, said they want this decision to be made without their participation. And that’s exactly what happened. This decision has been made without them,” Prime Minister Orbán said, cautioning his colleagues in the opposition not to assume that those who did not vote yesterday are supporters of the forced resettlement plan.

“The victorious always refer to the votes cast,” the prime minister said. “The losers focus on the people who stayed at home.”

Why doesn’t the government support a common European solution to the crisis?

“There is only one problem with the European solution: it goes against Hungary’s interest,” PM Orbán said, repeating the point that the European solution proposes that “migrants are allowed into Europe.”

“In Brussels, they have decided that migrants who illegally entered the EU would be compulsorily distributed amongst the Member States, and on top of all this, it would take place without limits.”

Prime Minister Orbán recalled that Hungary, on the other hand, erected physical and legal barriers to restore law and order on an external border of the Schengen Area and thus became “the only country, which protected its citizens.” In particular, the prime minister cited specific incidents when illegal migrants refused to comply with the rules and when a group of “organized criminals” attacked the Hungarian border.

It won’t matter how successful Hungary has become in protecting the southern borders, the PM said, if according to a European scheme, illegal migrants entering through western entry points are relocated to Hungary.

How will the government continue alone in its struggle to oppose Brussels?

According to Prime Minister Orbán, the question is whether Brussels will ignore the result of the referendum.

The prime minister said that the government should not be underestimated in this regard as it has already had success in “shaping European politics. Today, more argue for the fence than those who support immigration.”

A “significant portion of European citizens” just as Hungarians “do not support the inhumane solution proposed by Brussels regarding the quotas.“

Hungary, since 2010, has become an exemplary Member State, Prime Minister Orbán said, by “abiding by the fiscal discipline demanded by Brussels, international obligations and the European legal order that has been included in the Fundamental Law. So Hungary has every right to express its opinion in issues of the fate of the European Union.”

Putting the results of yesterday’s referendum in context, how does it compare to previous elections and referenda?

Reviewing results of past elections and referenda show that yesterday’s no vote is one of the strongest mandates delivered by Hungarian voters since 1989.

In Sunday’s referendum on the mandatory migrant relocation scheme, 3,282,928 people voted no. That is 98 percent of the valid votes cast. Turnout was 43.9 percent.

In the referendum held April 12, 2003, on EU membership, 3,056,027 voted yes to joining the EU. Turnout was 45.6 percent.

In the parliamentary elections of 2014, the party list of the governing alliance, Fidesz-KDNP, received 2.14 million votes, 43.55 percent of the vote.

In the referendum held November 16, 1997, on NATO membership, 3,344,131 people voted yes to joining NATO. Turnout was 49.2 percent.

Other referenda:

In the 2008 referendum, the so-called social policy referendum, 3,385,981 voted to withdraw the daily fee for hospital stays; 3,321,313 voted to withdraw the fee for visits to the doctor, and 3,309,616 voted to withdraw the tuition fee.

In the 2003 referendum on dual citizenship for Hungarians, 1,521,271 voted yes.

In the 2003 referendum on the overturning of the privatization of hospitals, 1,922,680 people voted yes.