In spite of its desperate campaign, the Hungarian government failed to mobilise enough voters to support its anti-refugee policy, writes Bob Oxley
Victor Orban and his Fidesz Government have suffered a humiliating rebuff in the referendum on migrants in Hungary today. The turnout was much less than 50%, the threshold required for the referendum to be valid. Of the roughly 43% who voted, most voted No as the government urged, but a sizeable minority spoiled their ballots.
The referendum was called in response to the EU migrant resettlement plan which proposed that Hungary should take just over a thousand refugees. The Orban government went into overdrive spending vast sums of public money to demonise migrants as terrorists and to secure a No vote to a carefully selected question.
The Hungarian people were asked to say no to the imposition by Brussels of migrants into Hungary without the consent of the National Assembly in which the Orban coalition has a two-thirds majority. The government therefore exploited both fear of migrants and resistance to Brussels diktat to secure the result they wanted.
Over $40 million of public money was spent festooning Hungary in posters in the colours of the Hungarian national flag saying "Don't Risk It, Vote No". A booklet was sent to every household warning of the dangers of immigration to employment and terrorism. Local mayors wrote to their constituents warning of the dire consequences of immigration for their local area.
A year ago polls suggested a majority of Hungarians sympathised with the plight of refugees but relentless propaganda and fear-mongering from the government has seen that figure slump. However, despite this massive and unprecedented attempt to manipulate Hungarian voters, the state of the healthcare system, corruption and unemployment continue to dominate their concerns.
The only party urging a Yes vote in the referendum was the small Liberal Party, widely suspected as having received government money to do so in the hope of boosting turnout. The left urged a boycott or voters to spoil their ballots.
Realising that he may fail to get to the 50% threshold, Orban pledged to carry on regardless. His strength is above all that there is no credible left opposition at the moment who can challenge the Fidesz party's hegemony, a hegemony reinforced by constitutional changes which the government has been able to carry because it has a more than two thirds majority in parliament.
There was a very worthy rally of opposition parties in Kossuth Square on Friday evening, but it was the joke Two-Tailed Dog Party which raised a lot of crowdfunded money and produced posters making fun of the government's posters.
However, Orban's major challengers remain from the ultra-right wing Jobbik Party, who polled over 16% in the National Assembly elections in 2014 when the turnout was just over 60%.
Orban must be very concerned that, despite throwing absolutely everything into securing a big turnout in the referendum, he failed to mobilise more than 40% of the voters in his favour. Despite this, he has declared victory. It remains to be seen how pyrrhic the "victory" is.