Hungarian referendum declared invalid — An embarrassing defeat for Viktor Orbán

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s anti-migrant referendum proved to be the first major defeat suffered by Fidesz in a decade. Fidesz has won every election and referendum since fall 2006, including the 2006 municipal and regional elections, the 2008 referendum calling for the elimination of compulsory medical fees and university tuition, as well as the 2010 and the 2014 parliamentary and regional elections. Mr. Orbán’s winning streak, however, has come to a halt.

The national referendum on EU “migrant quotes” for Hungary has been declared invalid, after turnout fell well below the minimum threshold of 50% plus 1. With 95% of ballots processed, here are the results:

  • The proportion of voters who cast valid ballots stands at: 39.72%.
  • NO: 98%
  • YES: 2%
  • In Budapest, 11% of the ballots were spoiled.
  • In Budapest’s 13th District, 16% of the ballots were spoiled.
  • In Budapest’s 5th District, 15% of the ballots were spoiled.
  • Nationally, 6% of all ballots were spoiled by voters.

The satirical Two Tailed Dog Party ran a very visible campaign calling on voters to spoil their ballots. In Budapest, the party was clearly successful in getting its message out.

Turn-out in Budapest and in the 19 counties. Turn-out was below fifty percent in 18 out of 19 counties and also in Budapest. Illustration: National Election Office.

Turn-out in Budapest and in the 19 counties. Turn-out was below fifty percent in 18 out of 19 counties and also in Budapest. Illustration: National Election Office.

The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), the Democratic Coalition (DK), the Együtt (Together) party and Dialogue for Hungary (PM) all called on Hungarians to boycott a referendum, which stood on a very tenuous legal premise and which was little more than a propaganda exercise and political red herring: creating fear and the threat perception about scores of migrants would be forcibly settled in Hungary by the European Union, in order to deflect attention from domestic ills, such as the country’s crumbling public health care and public education system, or the severe shortage of workers in many sectors of the economy.

Gyula Molnár, President of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), declared that today’s referendum proves that it is possible to defeat Fidesz and Prime Minister Orbán at the ballot box.

“Let “no” be our slogan until the elections in 2018–let us say ‘no’ to the continuation of Fidesz rule,” declared Mr. Molnár, adding: “Starting October 3rd, we will build a coalition from the majority of Hungarians who are society’s losers when this government is in power.”

Mr. Molnár emphasised that in order to beat Fidesz in 2018, the pro-democracy parties must field a single candidate in each riding. He then added that Hungary needs a new constitution, new election laws and a new media law.

Former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who leads the Democratic Coalition, called on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to resign, after it became clear that the referendum is invalid.

“We won. Not a little, but a lot. Viktor Orbán’s referendum is invalid and with this Hungary and the democratic opposition have achieved an unarguable victory against Fidesz and the Orbán government. After such an undeniable defeat, the prime minister of any normal, democratic country, must resign tonight,” said Mr. Gyurcsány.  “The left has waited for a real victory for the past ten years, and today this has finally happened,” he added. Mr. Gyurcsány noted that he would seek to begin formal negotiations with pro-democracy parties to run as a single, united pro-democracy coalition in the 2018 national elections.

Fidesz is trying hard to cast the result as a victory for the government. Gergely Gulyás, deputy leader of the Fidesz caucus in Parliament, tried to look on the bright side: he emphasised that more people voted “no” to EU migrant quotas than those who voted to join the European Union in a referendum held in 2003.

“The result is a staggering victory for all those who oppose limitless forced settlement of migrants and for all those who believe that the European Union’s foundations must be built on the principle of strong nation states,” said Mr. Gulyás, as he tried to explain away the uncomfortable defeat.

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