Elections commission rejects Paks referendum bid

March 22, 2017

The National Elections Commission (NVB) rejected a citizen request Tuesday to initiate a referendum on whether Hungary’s only nuclear energy facility should be expanded, reports index.hu. All five potential referendum questions, submitted at the end of February by green party LMP spokesman József Gál, were rejected by the commission, which found that most of  them conflicted with the lawful implementation of international agreements surrounding the Paks nuclear expansion project, and that they didn’t meet the standard of clarity.

The commission also found that while a valid referendum legally binds the National Assembly for three years, the wording of some of the submitted referendum questions gave the false impression that voters could make a decision that would be valid for the next 20 years, as in the question which reads:

Do you agree that the National Assembly should pass a law which would require the replacement of the entirety of nuclear power generating capacity with renewable energy sources by January 1, 2035? tweet

According to the NVB majority opinion, the question gives the impression that a “yes” vote would bind the National Assembly to ensure that Hungary operates entirely on renewable energy by 2035, when in fact it would only have “binding authority” for three years. The commission also found that “voters cannot see the consequences of the decision made with the referendum.”

In each of the five submitted questions, the commission complained that such a referendum would conflict with the obligations of an international agreement, in this case Hungary’s contracts with Russia’s state atomic energy corporation Rosatom for building the two new reactors. Hungary also took out a loan worth EUR 12 billion from a state-owned Russian bank to finance the project. Hungarian law states that referendums may not be held on international agreements, and the Curia, Hungary’s highest court, has already ruled that the Paks deal with Russia constitutes an international agreement.

Acting members of the commission László Bodolai (Politics Can Be Different/LMP) and András Litresits (Hungarian Socialist Party/MSZP) dissented from the commission’s decisions. Bodolai argued that the contracts with Russian entities do not constitute international agreements, and that referendums may therefore be held on the issue. Litresits, however, does consider the deal to be an international agreement, but found the questions to be clearly articulated, and considers one of the questions to be within the jurisdiction of the National Assembly.

MTI photo: Koszticsák Szilárd

LMP co-chair Bernadett Szél (above), who has long been an outspoken opponent of the Paks project, called the NVB’s arguments “ridiculous”, and argued that it’s much simpler to decide whether to make the country dependent on an outdated, expensive power plant built in the middle of the country than on how to deal with a worldwide migration crisis. Szél also sharply criticized the NVB’s decision that some of the Paks issues are too technically complex to be decided on by voters, and vowed that her party would “take apart” each justification given by the commission.

LMP plans to submit a new round of referendum questions to the NVB, including two on Wednesday.