Political battles could push Olympics referendum as late as October

February 17, 2017

While all signs indicate that activists have gathered more than enough signatures to put Budapest’s 2024 Olympic bid to a referendum, political maneuvering could draw out the process of organizing the referendum until September or October. According to Index.hu, much depends on election officials, the courts and political will.

Even in less politically contentious circumstances, the process can easily take several months, and regardless of what happens in Hungary, the International Olympic Committee will decide on September 13th which city will host the Olympic Games in 2024: Budapest, Los Angeles or Paris. From the perspective of Olympics opponents, holding a referendum well in advance of the committee’s decision promises to be the most effective route to derailing the project. Index.hu published a kind of roadmap Friday morning highlighting various scenarios of how the process could evolve in Hungary over the coming months.

To begin with, Budapest election officials must establish that enough valid signatures were gathered to put the issue on the ballot. There is debate, however, regarding just how many signatures are needed, but according to rules established by the Budapest Elections Office, the signature-gathering campaign will be considered a success if the total number of signatures is equal to 10 percent of the population of Budapest plus one signature, or around 138,000 signatures. Just to be safe, it will be necessary for activists to submit well over the minimum because –  as past experiences have shown – anywhere from 10-20 percent of the signatures gathered are usually invalid. (Most recent numbers Friday indicate that more than 266,000 signatures were collected by the Nolimpia campaign, well in excess of the required number.)

After determining that enough signatures were gathered, Index reports there are two different timelines for how the process could proceed.

First, if there are absolutely no hang-ups in the process, the referendum could be called as soon as early summer. This assumes that the authorities do not slow down the process, and that there are no lawsuits challenging the referendum — which seems unlikely.

The second and more likely scenario would involve all authorities involved dragging out the process until the last possible moment. If this happens, the referendum may be called as late as September or October. If the International Olympic Committee chooses another city when it makes its decision on September 13th, the referendum in Budapest would be rendered completely useless. However, if Budapest is chosen by the IOC to host the games, the importance of the referendum would drastically increase. Budapest residents would be in the position to decide on whether to reject the IOC’s decision.

Roadblocks

Regarding potential roadblocks of the referendum, it is important to see the process as a series of steps, any one of which has the potential to slow down the process.

According to Index, if challenged every step of the way, the referendum process could hit a wall anywhere along its path from the Budapest Elections Office to the Budapest Election Committee, and then to the Curia, Hungary’s highest court. Then it could get sent back to the Budapest Election Committee, then the mayor’s office, the Budapest City Council, yet another appeal at the Curia, and back to the Budapest Election Committee. Only then can the referendum finally be scheduled to take place anywhere from 50-70 days after the election committee announces its validity.

Ultimately, the timeline for the process depends largely on political maneuvering. According to Index, Fidesz’s tactics will have the most power, as the party controls the Budapest City Council. For Fidesz, rather than slowing the process until fall, it might make the most sense to push for the referendum to be held in summer, when people are traditionally on vacation and less engaged in politics. At least 50 percent of Budapest residents must cast a ballot for the referendum to be valid. But a summer referendum can only take place if the Budapest City Council, the election authorities and the Curia waste no time in rendering their decisions.

How the IOC sees events transpiring in Budapest may influence their decision to let the Olympic Games be hosted in Hungary. According to Index, the majority of Budapest residents want the city to withdraw its bid from the IOC, which could make the city less attractive to the committee.