Hungarians go to the polls today to vote on the so-called anti-resettlement quota referendum. According to a recent Publicus poll, around 46 percent of those surveyed plan to vote. Of them, 90 percent plan to vote “no” on the question of whether the European Union should mandate that refugees be settled in Hungary without the consent of parliament.
For the referendum to be valid, just over 50 percent of the electorate must cast a valid vote.
Opposition politicians, civil leaders and legal experts alike believe the question is meaningless as Brussels has no intention of forcing EU member states to temporarily take in some of the 100,000 refugees currently in Greece and Italy awaiting resettlement. They have called on Hungarian voters to either boycott the election or cast an invalid vote. Many critics maintain that the referendum is unlawful to the extent that the subject of the referendum falls outside the purview of the Hungarian parliament and there is no clear consequence to a valid “yes” or “no” vote.
The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has spent over USD 40 million on government pamphlets, advertisements and billboards telling Hungarians to vote “no” today. Futhemore, both state media and the pro-government press has bombarded Hungarians for the past four months with news and editorials conflating immigration with terrorism.
With Orbán having staked his personal political prestige and that of the governing Fidesz party on a valid, negative outcome, the government has left no stone unturned in an effort to turn public opinion against those fleeing war and overcrowded refugee camps. Recently, even local governments sent out hundreds of thousands of letters urging citizens to vote “no”.
In addition to Fidesz MPs and government officials, the government has mobilized a bewildering range of religious leaders, celebrities, civil leaders and even former socialist and liberal politicians to get the result it wants. “It is as though Orbán has threatened to fire or cut off everyone’s funding if they fail to canvas of the government” says one observer.
Former Hungarian European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor recently told the Beacon that not since Hungary’s first parliamentary elections 26 years ago has he seen anything like it. “The amount of resources going into this campaign is probably extraordinary, focusing on one particular subject, the refugee crisis, but in a confusing way,” he said.
“If there is a role in the case of such shock for a government, it would be to clarify the situation and inform society to help avoiding panic rather than fueling panic. What we have seen, I’m afraid, in Hungary is more creating panic, ensuring that the population gets scared of Arabic people. Yes, it’s true that Hungary is a country . . . without a history of immigration from the countries which are now the source countries of the refugee flow. But this should even more call for some kind of government campaign to inform instead of generating this animosity if not hatred of Muslims, Arabs, as if all of them would be terrorists or terror suspects.”
Andor says the purpose of the government campaign has been to dehumanize those fleeing war and overcrowded refugee camps by “killing emotions that would be sympathetic, killing solidarity and antagonizing the Hungarian position vis-a-vis the West European mainstream which, at least, in the political decision . . . point towards more cooperation and more solidarity across the European Union.”