Unlike what we witnessed in Great Britain, Hungarians will not be able to vote in a referendum on whether to leave the European Union–often referred to as Huxit–following a decision this week by the National Election Commission (Nemzeti Választási Bizottság – NVB). A populist, right-wing former mayor from the town of Monok submitted a proposed referendum to the NVB, demanding that Hungarians be permitted to vote on whether or not to stay in the European Union. Former mayor Zsolt Szepessy, a colourful and controversial figure who during his tenure decided to humiliate welfare recipients in his town, by denying them payments if they did not keep their house clean and did not grow vegetables in their garden, was arrested last fall. He was charged with helping 600 Ukrainians illegally obtain Hungarian citizenship, for a fee of 1,000 euros a head.
The NVB was unanimous is rejecting Mr. Szepessy’s Huxit proposal, and did so on the grounds that it contravened Hungary’s Fundamental Law (Alaptörvény), which states that referendums cannot be held on enacted international agreements. András Patyi, Chair of the NVB, added that the Fundamental Law refers to Hungary’s membership in the EU in numerous places, which means that a constitutional amendment would be necessary to change this.
Had Mr. Szepessy’s referendum somehow gone ahead, it would have failed miserably. Despite the government’s constant anti-EU rhetoric and the October 2nd anti-migrant and anti-EU referendum, a clear majority of Hungarians still support EU membership. According to a recent Závecz Research poll, 68% of Hungarians support EU membership and only 17% would vote to leave. Since many Hungarians have no emotional attachment at all to the European Union, they–to use a somewhat cynical phrase–at least know what side their bread is buttered on.
The Orbán government, however, is going full steam ahead with its October 2nd anti-migrant referendum. And the campaign is based on blatant lies, including billboards across the country claiming that Brussels wants to settle a city-full of illegal immigrants in Hungary. This is plainly false, but the majority of fired-up Fidesz and Jobbik supporters either do not know or do not care that this is not accurate.
According to a new poll by Závecz Research, 54% of Hungarians intend to vote in the referendum, which means that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s initiative is just barely attracting adequate turn-out to surpass the 50% threshold. But it is important to keep in mind that these telephone polls tend to overestimate turn-out. As well, some of the recent terror attacks in Europe may have given the referendum initiative a sense of relevancy. Interestingly, of the opposition parties only the Democratic Coalition (DK) has managed to convince its voters to boycott the vote. A total of 69% of DK sympathizers have indicated that they will not participate. In contrast, only 29% of Socialist sympathizers have decided to heed the Hungarian Socialist Party’s call to boycott the vote. Turn-out among Fidesz supporters (and support for a “no” to EU-determined “migrant quotas”) stands at 63% among Fidesz voters and 62% among Jobbik sympathizers.
Mr. Orbán’s government must convince at least 4.1 million Hungarian voters to participate in the referendum for the vote to be valid.
What Mr. Orbán will actually do if the vote is, indeed, valid is a mystery, since it cannot result in any binding legislative change. It will, however, be a propaganda victory against the EU.