Lowvoter turnout in­val­i­dates bal­lot on refugee quo­tas

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary

Lowvoter 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 plans to re­lo­cate asy­lum seek­ers.

The gov­ern­ment claimed a “sweep­ing vic­tory,” but an­a­lysts said that the re­sult was an “em­bar­rass­ing but not to­tally cat­a­strophic de­feat” for PrimeMin­is­ter 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 the re­sults were known. “Hun­gar­i­ans were able to give their di­rect opin­ions on the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion.”

Or­ban, who did not men­tion at all that the ref­er­en­dum was of­fi­cially in­valid, said he would present a pro­posal to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion re­flect­ing peo­ple’s in­ten­tions. Or­ban, a right-wing pop­ulist, has chal­lenged the EU’s refugee pol­icy, ar­gu­ing that al­low­ing the in­flux of larger num­bers of Mus­lim mi­grants into Europe threat­ens Hun­gary and Europe’s Chris­tian iden­tity and cul­ture.

“The (European) Union’s pro­posal is to let the mi­grants in and dis­tributeth­em­in­manda­tory 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 usHun­gar­i­ans 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.

With 99.98 per­cent of the votes counted, more than 3.25 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. At least 50 per­cent plus one of Hun­gary’s 8.27 mil­lion vot­ers needed to cast valid bal­lots for the ref­er­en­dum to be valid.

of those who cast valid bal­lots backed the gov­ern­ment’s op­po­si­tion to manda­tory quo­tas for asy­lym seek­ers. in voter turnout was well be­low the thresh­old for the ref­er­en­dum to be valid.

Nearly 4 per­cent of the votes were spoiled — twice as many as in any of the other four ref­er­en­dums held since 1997 — driv­ing down the num­ber of valid votes to 40.1 per­cent.

The ref­er­en­dum asked: “Do you want the European Union to be able to pre­scribe the manda­tory set­tle­ment of nonHun­gar­ian ci­ti­zens in Hun­gary even with­out the con­sent of Par­lia­ment?”

Or­ban’s Fidesz party claimed vic­tory im­me­di­ately af­ter vot­ing sta­tions closed, with party vice chair­man Gergely Gulyas say­ing it was a “sweep­ing vic­tory for all those who re­ject the EU’s manda­tory, un­lim­ited quo­tas.”

At the same time, an­a­lysts said the re­lent­less gov­ern­ment cam­paign against the EU’s refugee re­lo­ca­tion schemes had over­sat­u­rated ci­ti­zens.

“Or­ban was able to dom­i­nate pub­lic dis­course with an is­sue in which the ma­jor­ity was on his side,” said Ta­mas Boros, an an­a­lyst at Pol­icy So­lu­tions, a po­lit­i­cal re­search and con­sul­tancy firm. “But it seems he went too far and over­es­ti­mated how much peo­ple’s opin­ions are trans­formed into votes.”

LASZLO BALOGH / REUTERS

A refugee baby smiles in a makeshift tent on the Hun­garySer­bia bor­der, in a camp out­side a tran­sit zone set up by Hun­gar­ian au­thor­i­ties, on Sept 2.

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