Opposition success in Hungary: 266,000 sign petition against Budapest Olympics

The fledgling Momentum Mozgalom had the challenging task of collecting at least 138,000 signatures within just 30 days, in order to force a referendum on withdrawing the Budapest bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. On Friday morning, Momentum’s young leaders announced that they, along with some of the smallest opposition parties, had collected more than 266,000 signatures. Initially, the most prominent Fidesz politicians and media personalities (including András Bencsik, editor-in-chief of the far-right Demokrata weekly) declared that anyone who joined the petition was a traitor. Some organizations, like the József Antall Foundation, threatened to fire any employee who supported the opposition initiative. Then last week, when it became increasingly clear that Momentum was about to surpass the minimum threshold of 138,000 signatures from Budapest residents, a lawyer associated with the pro-Fidesz Civic Cooperation Forum (Civil Összefogás Fórum) suggested that the Budapest Election Committee should just retroactively increase the 138,000 threshold to above 150,000, in order to throw a wrench into Momentum’s efforts.

In the end, even if the Committee decided to play dirty–and we have seen similar outrages before in Hungary–Momentum will have well over 150,000 valid signatures–that remains the case, even if 20% of the signatures, as is common, are disqualified for one reason or another.

Fidesz Mayor István Tarlós is looking to save face. Polls have shown that if the referendum goes ahead, Budapest voters will reject the Olympic bid, requiring Budapest City Council to withdraw it. On Friday, Mayor Tarlós announced that he is giving consideration to withdrawing the bid, thus preempting the referendum. András Fekete-Győr, one of the founders of Momentum, called on Mayor Tarlós not to withdraw the bid, but allow Budapest residents to vote their conscience on the question.

Of course, Fidesz is not thrilled about going into a losing referendum nine months before the next national elections. They expect to face an embarrassing result and a harsh repudiation from voters in the plebiscite. For this reason, the chances of the referendum actually proceeding as planned are quite small, despite Momentum’s impressive showing.

How did Momentum rise so quickly and achieve this success with so little experience, money and an initial ground game? As simple as this sounds, a major part of the equation was relentless grassroots work. Momentum’s activists spent the worst winter cold canvassing all neighbourhoods in Budapest, collecting signatures in public squares and knocking on doors. Their approach was very efficient: their central office in Budapest would keep close tabs multiple times each day on the progress at the various kiosks set up at major intersections and public places. When they felt that the area was “maxed out” in terms of new signatures, the activists were instructed to begin visiting private homes and then eventually move on and set up the kiosk elsewhere.

It is also important to mention that three opposition parties–the smallest ones, actually–punched far above their weight. The Lehet Más a Politika (Politics Can Be Different – LMP) green party collected nearly 30,000 signatures for Momentum. The small Együtt party and Párbeszéd collected over 10,000 signatures each.

Momentum, LMP, Együtt and Párbeszéd deserve to be commended–they faced a difficult task in the dead of winter, threats from the government and its spokespeople, as well as physical attacks. Yet they not only reached their goal, but far surpassed all expectations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *