Hungary thwarts 18 attempts to hold referendum on Sunday shop closures

November 11, 2015

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To date 18 different attempts to hold a referendum on Sunday shop closures in Hungary have been blocked one way or another, writes

The controversial legislation was opposed by the majority of Hungarians, as well as labor unions.  But that didn’t stop the ruling Fidesz-KDNP alliance from passing a law forcing shops to close on Sunday.  The Hungarian people are becoming more outraged by the decision as time goes on.

Péter Erdélyi of opens his article by reciting a quote by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: “You may remember that in 2010 we Hungarians made the decision to discuss important issues with each other before making decisions.”

The quote appears in the letter accompanying National Consultation questionnaires sent to citizens, including this year’s national consultation on immigration and terrorism.

Erdélyi says the controversy over the government’s decision to impose mandatory Sunday store closures demonstrates that the government is not interested in the public’s opinion either before or after it makes decisions.

The first public opinion poll on the subject took place in 2011 when the government learned that 67 percent of Hungarians would not approve of forced store closures on Sundays.

This hasn’t changed much since 2011. Studies performed after the government decided to close stores on Sundays show that two-thirds of Hungarians would like to go shopping on that day, and the number is growing. Not only does this imply that people aren’t getting used to the idea of not being able to shop on Sundays, it also means more and more people disagree with the change.

The issue is becoming increasingly embarrassing for the government and important to Hungary’s opposition parties because it is a symbolic issue comparable to the 2008 referendums on tuition, hospital visit fees, etc.

If the issue ever turned up on a ballot, it would hand the opposition parties a huge victory over Fidesz-KDNP.

“So, the government is doing everything it can to stop that from happening,” Erdélyi writes.

The battle over putting this issue on the ballot is being fought before the National Election Committee, which is responsible for deciding what questions can be the subject of a referendum.

There have been 18 attempts so far but the committee hasn’t once approved an attempt to move forward with the referendum.

Róbert László, an expert on Hungary’s electoral system, tells the Beacon that at the root of the problem lies Hungary’s law on holding referendums which was modified shortly after Fidesz returned to power in 2010. According to László, the law essentially prevents holding a referendum on the issue by allowing for procedural delays to come into play which end up postponing any deliberation on legitimate calls for a referendum.

Most recently, an opposition attempt to put the issue in front of the National Election Committee was thwarted when a lady (whose family happens to own a store that is allowed to remain open on Sundays) beat the Hungarian Socialist Party to the punch by submitting her own call for a referendum literally minutes before the opposition party. The lady, Mrs. Gabriella Gercsényi Simon, allegedly submitted her own call for a referendum on the question: “Do you agree that retail stores should be able to stay closed on Sundays?”  The Socialists have accused the committee of backdating Simon’s application and have called for the resignation of its chair, Dr. Ilona Pálffy.

The Hungarian Socialist Party’s call for a referendum on the question “Do you agree that the Parliament should annul the 2014 CII. Law that prohibits work for retail employees on Sundays?” was rejected pending a decision by the National Election Committee regarding Mrs.Simon’s referendum.