Tue, Oct 04, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Void vote a blow to Hungarian anti-EU revolt

REFUGEE QUESTION:Turnout for the referendum fell well short of the required 50 percent threshold, but 99.8 percent of voters cast ballots rejecting the EU plan

AFP, BUDAPEST

Edit Piros, an ethnic Hungarian originally from Romania, on Sunday receives a ballot before voting in the village of Veresegyhaz, Hungary, in a referendum on whether to accept or reject the EU’s migrant quotas.

Photo: AP

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Sunday suffered a blow in his revolt against the EU after low voter turnout voided his referendum aimed at rejecting a contested refugee quota plan.

Nationalist Jobbik party yesterday called for Orban to resign.

Jobbik Chairman Gabor Vona told the prime minister in parliament that he had weakened Hungary’s positions in Europe with a referendum that failed when less than half of voters cast a valid vote.

“You need to resign, like [former British prime minister] David Cameron did, as is the norm in European politics,” Vona said. “I know you will not resign, but the least you could offer is an apology.”

Although 99.8 percent of voters backed Orban’s bid to reject the proposal, overall turnout fell well short of a 50 percent threshold.

Only 3.3 million of the 8 million-strong electorate cast a valid vote, and the National Election Committee declared the referendum void after counting the ballots on Sunday evening.

However, the firebrand leader, whose hardline policy on migration has been criticized by human rights groups but is popular at home, downplayed the significance of the low turnout and vowed there would be “legal consequences” regardless.

“Brussels or Budapest, that was the question, and the people said Budapest,” he defiantly told supporters gathered in the capital on Sunday night.

“I will propose to change the constitution [which] shall reflect the will of the people. We will make Brussels understand that it cannot ignore the will of Hungarian voters,” he said.

Orban said more Hungarians had rejected the migrant quotas than had voted for EU membership in a referendum ahead of Hungary’s 2004 accession to the bloc.

Orban has emerged as the standard-bearer of those opposed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door” policy, in the wake of the bloc’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The EU migrant quota proposal — spearheaded by Merkel and approved by most governments in the bloc last year after antagonistic debates — seeks to ease pressure on frontline countries Italy and Greece, the first port of arrival for most refugees. However, implementation has been slow.

Eastern and Central European nations vehemently oppose the plan aimed at relocating 160,000 people, many of who fled war in Syria.

Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz on Sunday said the EU should stop clinging to its troubled plan.

“The target is totally unrealistic,” he told the German daily Welt am Sonntag, warning that disagreements over the plan could threaten “the cohesion of the entire European Union.”

Hungary has not accepted a single one of the 1,294 refugees allocated to it under the scheme and instead joined Slovakia in filing a legal challenge against it.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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