This month, the validity of a referendum question was upheld by Hungary’s highest court the Curia. The question was submitted by former LMP MP Gábor Vágó who seeks to compel parliament to extend the legal statute of limitations on corruption-related crimes to 12 years. Vágó and his allies were granted 120 days to collect 200,000 valid signatures in order for the referendum to be held.
A press conference was held Sunday by representatives of those parties that would pitch in on the signature collection: Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary), Együtt (Together), LMP (Politics Can Be Different), the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) and Momentum Movement. The press conference kicked off the signature collection period that will last until January 13, 2018.
But on Sunday evening, newly-elected Fidesz delegation leader Gergely Gulyás told state news service MTI that there was no reason for the opposition parties to begin collecting signatures because Fidesz was in full support of Vágó’s campaign to crack down on corruption. Gulyás said that if one of the opposition parties in the National Assembly would simply submit a draft amendment, then Fidesz would support it.
As 444.hu notes, Fidesz’s uncharacteristic support of an opposition initiative seems indicative of an attempt to preempt an anti-Fidesz referendum campaign ahead of the national election next spring. By supporting a legislative initiative on corruption and eliminating the need for a referendum, as Fidesz did in the previous two referendum attempts by the opposition, it avoids the issue of corruption being placed before the electorate, and precludes the opportunity for the opposition to gain political momentum before the election.
Wouldn’t be the first time
In April 2016, after MSZP successfully submitted a referendum question that sought to repeal the Christian Democratic People’s Party-initiated law requiring stores to remain closed on Sundays, Fidesz hastily retracted the law before a referendum could be held. At the beginning of this year, the then-unknown Momentum Movement successfully gathered 266,000 signatures in support of its “Nolimpia” referendum on whether Budapest should host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Shortly thereafter, the government revoked its Olympic application.
It therefore comes as little surprise that the author of the referendum question is unconvinced by Fidesz’s promise to support a bill. Vágó wrote in a blog post addressed to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Sunday that Fidesz has “run away from the anti-corruption referendum and shifted the responsibility onto the opposition.” Orbán had “promised and flattered us, the opposition and the Hungarian people so many times that you lost our trust,” Vagó wrote.
“A political promise from Fidesz is about as strong for me as a quiet fart in the middle of a tornado. I’ll believe that you will vote for an amendment to the penal code when you, Viktor Orbán, submit the bill.” Vágó urged Fidesz to “stand next to the referendum.”
Momentum, which is assisting in the collection of signatures for the referendum, also rejected Fidesz’s promise to vote for an anti-corruption bill. The young party appeared with numerous signature-collection booths in front of the Parliament building on Monday morning, and claimed they would set up as many such booths for the anti-corruption referendum as they had for their own Nolimpia referendum.
Meanwhile, leftish micro-party Együtt announced on Monday that its MP Szabolcs Szabó would submit an amendment to extend the statute of limitations on corruption crimes to the National Assembly. “If the question is truly important to Fidesz and to the other parliamentary parties, then they will vote for Együtt’s bill,” the party wrote.