Orban fails to reach 50% turnout
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has invested in increased border security. Source: Wikimedia
Hungary has given autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban a partial victory by overwhelmingly voting “no” in a national referendum on whether to accept more migrants, but without giving him the necessary turnout for a valid result.
The referendum, costing at least US$36 million, included no specifics about legislation or government action.
“What will happen after the referendum will depend partly on the results themselves, but also on what is happening on the international scene,” said Zoltan Kovacs, Orban’s spokesman.
With 99 per cent of the vote counted, 98 per cent of voters had opted to refuse to allow the EU to force Budapest to accept refugees. But the turnout was a feeble 40 per cent, well below the threshold of 50 per cent required for a referendum to be considered valid under Hungarian law.
Despite the low turnout, Orban said he considered the vote a mandate for the government to pursue its anti-immigrant policies.
“We can be proud to be the first EU state to let its people express their own views on the issue of immigration,” Orban said on Sunday night. “We are facing the most important question for years to come. It’s about the future of Hungary, with whom we live, what will be our culture, our lifestyle and our Christian roots.”
The prime minister last year ordered the building of a heavily guarded, razor-wire fence along the country’s southern borders to keep migrants out.
Poland’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, recently repeated Orban’s call for restructuring the EU to return more power to members. “Our proposals are quite radical,” Waszczykowski said.
The Czech parliament has also discussed proposals to build border fences and increase security along its frontiers. In Austria, a right-wing candidate has a strong chance of becoming the next president and support for nationalists is rising in France and Denmark.
“Far-right movements are on the rise everywhere, and there are reasons for that,” said Gabor Fodor of the Hungarian Liberal Party. “The EU is very slow. Look at the 2008 financial crisis, the subsequent euro crisis and now the refugee crisis. People can feel it. There is nothing happening.”
Fuelling populism was the reality that Europe’s economy was weaker than it was in the 1990s.
“The middle class doesn’t have as much. The economy is not as strong,” Fodor said. “The welfare state is on the way down, and this has an impact on people’s lives.”
Europe’s veteran leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, could lose to nationalist opposition in the 2017 elections.
“We are in the midst of a backlash against globalisation, and it is a widespread phenomenon,” said Stefan Lehne of Carnegie Europe in Brussels. “The general perception is that things have spiralled out of control. There is an increasing resistance to international business agreements. And this phenomenon has led to renationalisation of individual states and rediscovery of national identity.”
Only Fodor’s tiny Liberal Party urged citizens to vote “yes,” arguing that the referendum should show support for the EU.