Low turnout invalidates Hungary ballot on EU refugee quotas
BUDAPESTLow voter turnout invalidated Hungary’s referendum on European Union refugee quotas, even though citizens voted overwhelmingly in support of the government’s opposition to any future, mandatory EU schemes to relocate asylum-seekers.
The government claimed a “sweeping victory” while analysts said that the result was an “embarrassing but not totally catastrophic defeat” for Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“We can be proud that we are the first and so far only member state of the European Union” to hold such a referendum, Orban told supporters after results were known. “Hungarians were able to give their direct opinions on the issue of immigration.”
With 99.25 percent of the votes counted, more than 3.2 million voters - or 98.3 of those who cast valid ballots - backed the government. But turnout stood at 43.9 percent, the National Election Office said. Fifty percent plus one vote was needed for the referendum to be valid.
About 4 percent of the votes were spoiled - twice as many as in any of the other four referenda held since 1997 - driving down the number of valid votes to just below 40 percent.
The referendum asked: “Do you want the European Union to be able to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of Parliament?”
Orban said that despite the invalidity of the ballot, he would present a proposal to amend the Constitution reflecting people’s intentions.
“The [European] Union’s proposal is to let the migrants in and distribute them in mandatory fashion among the member states and for Brussels to decide about this distribution,” Orban said. “Hungarians today considered this proposal and they rejected it. Hungarians decided that only us Hungarians can decide whom we want to live with.”
“The question was ‘Brussels or Budapest’ and we decided this issue is exclusively the competence of Budapest,” the prime minister said.
Orban vowed that Budapest would still reject the EU’s migrant quota plan.
A spokeswoman for the EU’s executive arm agreed with Hungary’s electoral commission that the referendum was invalid due to insufficient voter turnout.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Oct. 3 that because than less than the required 50 percent of voters took part in referendum on Oct. 2, the vote was “declared legally void by the Hungarian electoral commission.”