One may indeed ask the question whether it was wise for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to call a referendum on the EU-imposed refugee quuotas, given (a) the foreseeable difficulty in getting more than 50% of the electorate to the polls, (b) his intention to reject the EU’s quota idea in any case, and (c) the practical impossibility for the Commission and for Member States, including those agreeing with the idea, to put the quota into practice. The voter turnout has been just 40% instead of 50%, the referendum is “invalid” from a legal point of view, and all the international mass media are writing about “Orbán’s defeat”.
However, is it really a defeat? What precisely is it that Orbán is not allowed to do now, but would have been allowed to do had the participation in the referendum been higher?
In fact, of the 40% who participated, 98% voted against the EU’s refugee quota scheme. To be sure, that is less than half of the electorate. But to conclude that the other half are in favour of the scheme is simply ludicrous. In fact many voters simply were realistic enough to understand that the scheme has no chance of being implemented, no matter how they voted. And so they stayed at home.
Voter turnout is traditionally low in Hungary.
Just consider this:
Referendum on the accession of Hungary to the EU, April 2003:
Participation: 45,62 %
Yes to accession: 83,7 %
No: 16,3 %
Referendum on EU refugee quota, 2. October 2016:
Participation: 43,3 %
Yes to refugee quotas: 1,7 %
No: 98,3 %
In absolute numbers, more Hungarians have voted in last Sunday’s referendum against the EU’s refugee quota scheme than back in 2003 in favour of EU accession.
Also note: The number of citizens having voted against the quota scheme on last Sunday exceeds by ca. 1 million the number of votes won by Orbán’s FIDESZ party 2 years ago.
In actual fact, therefore, Orbán has managed to reach out far beyond his own electorate…