Low turnout set to void Hungary’s migrant referendum

A large majority of Hungarians who voted in Sunday’s referendum rejected the EU’s migrant quotas as Prime Minister Viktor Orban had urged, but the estimated turnout of 45 percent will not be enough to make the vote valid, exit polls suggest.

Senior politicians from Orban’s ruling Fidesz party declared victory shortly after voting finished at 1700 GMT, citing exit polls which showed 95 percent of voters had rejected the quotas.

“Based on these data we can rightfully say that today has brought a sweeping victory for all those who reject the forced resettlement [of migrants] … and for those who believe that the foundations of a strong EU can only be strong nations,” Fidesz lawmaker and the party’s vice chairman Gergely Gulyas told a news conference.

But Gulyas conceded that turnout was unlikely to reach the minimum 50% of eligible voters required to validate the referendum. An invalid referendum could diminish Orban’s ability to exert pressure on Brussels to change its migration policies.

“A lot of people in Budapest are saying that this is the first big defeat for Orban since the 2002 elections,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Hungary, Florence La Bruyère, referring to the prime minister’s last electoral defeat 14 years ago.

Orban opposes EU plans to relocate a total of 160,000 migrants across the bloc. Under the scheme Hungary would receive 1,294 asylum seekers.

He is expected to make a speech later tonight, after preliminary results come in.

Radical right opposition party Jobbik, which backed the “No” vote, said the referendum was “a fiasco” and called on the prime minister to resign if the vote proves invalid.

Stoking fear and xenophobia

Orban, who has been in power since 2010, is among the toughest opponents of immigration in the EU, and over the past year he has sealed Hungary’s southern borders with a razor-wire fence and thousands of army and police border patrols.

While last year hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East crossed Hungary on their way to richer countries in Western Europe, this year Hungary recorded around 18,000 illegal border crossings.

In a letter published in a daily newspaper on Saturday, Orban again urged Hungarians to send a message to the EU that its migration policies were flawed and posed a threat to Europe’s security.

“We can send the message that it is only up to us, European citizens, whether we can jointly force the Union to come to its senses or let it destroy itself,” he wrote in the Magyar Idok.

While Budapest says immigration policy should be a matter of national sovereignty, human rights groups have criticised the government for stoking fears and xenophobia, and for mistreating refugees stranded on its borders.


Date created : 2016-10-02

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