Two-sided referendum result turns into spin-war

Image: European People’s Party

It was a big “no” to EU refugee quotas in a low turn-out Hungarian referendum. On one hand a clear message, but on the other hand an invalid one. A result hailed as a victory by both sides of the political spectrum.

“It was partly a victory, and partly a setback,” described Hungarian MEP Görgy Schöpflin from Fidesz the result.

In Hungarian newspapers the headlines varied from “The referendum failed”, “Five million resisted the will of Orbán” and “Orbán-failure at a cost of HUF 15 billion (edit. 48 million €)” to “Hungary says no to mandatory quota” and an US-based online publication had the story called “Orbán’s big referendum win”.

“You can spin it any way you like. The media spin things,” Görgy Schöpflin said.

The turnout for the referendum was only 43 per cent and deemed invalid because it was below 50 per cent. Of the voters who went to the polls 98 per cent choose “no” on the ballot, seemingly leaving the result up for interpretation and spin to call a winner.

Prime Minister Victor Orbán was quick to hail the referendum as a victory.

“The Hungarians decided that only we can decide who we want to live together with. Brussels or Budapest? This was the question, and we decided it: this question belongs to Budapest exclusively,” Orbán said in a speech after the outcome was clear.

Viktor Orbán and his government party Fidesz initiated the referendum. Viktor Orbán and eastern member states as Poland, Czechia, Romania and Slovakia have been critical of the EU Commission plan to divide refugees across Europe in a quota-system.

As a result, Victor Orbán and the government party Fidesz set up the referendum and 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 more EU-friendly opposition strategy was to invalidate the referendum and therefore recommended the voters to stay home instead of voting “yes” to keep the turnout below 50 per cent.

Pressure on quotas

The referendum piles more pressure on the quota-system that the EU-states agreed on in September last year in the European Council. 160,000 refugees are supposed to be distributed across Europe, but so far only a few thousand have been allocated. The EU had deemed Hungary to take 1,294 refugees. Now Victor Orbán wants to strengthen his cause with a constitutional change in collaboration with the right-wing party Jobbik. The constitutional change aims to prevent the EU from forcing Hungary to accept refugees.

“In the next couple of days, I will propose to the Hungarian Parliament a constitutional change. I think that the people’s will must be recognized and recorded in our Basic Law,” he said, aiming his cannon towards Brussels.

“The question is simple: Could Brussels, could the democratic community of states, force its will where its intention was rejected by the voters? I promise you, I promise every citizen of Hungary, I will do everything in my power to avoid this fate,” Orbán said in his speech.

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