Oct 02, 2016

Here’s how a referendum works in Hungary

As Hungary prepares to hold a referendum on October 2nd, 2016, here are a few basic facts about how a referendum works in Hungary.

A referendum must be held if at least 200,000 eligible voters initiate such a request. The Parliament may also decide to hold a referendum if initiated by the president of the republic, the government or at least 100,000 eligible voters.

A referendum is only valid if at least half of eligible voters plus one voter cast a valid vote. In Hungary, that is about four million people. The referendum is effective if more than half of the people who cast a valid vote, voted on one of the answers. To recap, Hungary needs about four million voters for the vote to count and more than half of them must vote similarly.

The question that appears on a referendum must be appropriate – i.e., it must fit a particular scope (see below). The question should also be unambiguous and one that can be decided with a simple yes or no.

The practice of campaign silence before voting has been discontinued, except at polling stations, where campaigning is unacceptable.

These rules on referenda are laid down in Hungary’s Fundamental Law, Act CCXXXVIII of 2013 on Initiating Referenda and the European Citizens’ Initiative and Referendum Procedure. 

Along with a set of legal reforms during 2010–2014, the rules governing a public referendum were also altered. This fairly new legal act simplified the procedure and reduced the bureaucratic burden on the institution.

The scope of what cannot be decided on a referendum remained the same: a referendum has to focus on an issue within the scope of Parliament and cannot be conducted on: alteration of the Fundamental Law, the budget, election rules, dismissing Parliament, declarations of war, participation in military operations or issuing pardons. As before, a referendum cannot be held on duties based on international agreements.

That last point raises a significant question: some reports still assert that Hungary’s upcoming referendum is on the Council of Justice and Home Affairs of the European Union, which set the migrant quotas for 2015. Although Hungary did turn to the European Court of Justice to challenge the decision, the referendum cannot be on the quota decision in 2015 because, by law, international agreements cannot be challenged this way. Plainly, Hungary’s October 2 referendum is on subsequent relocation plans that have been proposed by the European Commission.