Hungary's Orban seeks boost from anti-immigration, anti-EU vote

Hungary's conservative, nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has stepped up his propaganda campaign ahead of a Sunday referendum on immigration and European Union policies, looking ahead to upcoming elections.

"Let's take no chances - vote NO," posters stuck to walls across the country urge. 

"No" is what Orban wants to hear his compatriots say to the question: "Do you want the European Union to be able, without consulting the [Hungarian] parliament, to decree the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary?"

Orban, backed by his Fidesz party, emerged as the front runner of the anti-refugee front in the EU, opposing German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open door policy as the migration crisis peaked in the latter half of 2015.

Hungary was the first EU country to block entry to migrants and refugees, initially by erecting a fence along the border with Serbia and Croatia. It also passed harsh laws against border trespassing. 

On Tuesday, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International released a report accusing Hungary of doing everything it could to deter and block refugees from asking for protection on its soil. The report is similar to others published earlier.

With all that and - reportedly frequent - brutal treatment of people arriving from the south, Hungary has contributed to the stranding of thousands of migrants in neighbouring Serbia.

With the referendum, Orban now seeks to block the settlement of approved refugees across the bloc according to preset quotas - something that Hungary has already legally challenged before the European Court of Justice, the EU's top court.

Campaigning for support, Orban has repeatedly described immigration as "poison," accusing refugees and migrants of terrorism and warning that a surge of Muslims would destroy the Christian and national identity of European people.

He recently proposed to expel refugees awaiting a decision on their claim for an asylum to "a large island or a part of the north African seacoast."

Orban and his lieutenants in Fidesz also stepped up the pressure on lower echelons in the party to mobilize enough people for a valid turnout on Sunday.

More than half of around 8 million voters need to cast a valid ballot, which is a tall order for referendums, which generally attract limited interest.

Quoting sources from Fidesz, the left-leaning daily Nepszabadsag said that careers of mayors and lawmakers depend on a sufficient turnout in their domains.

The campaign has targeted people outside the circle of typical Orban supporters.

Historian Laszlo Tokeczki recently told the state radio: "It needs to be made clear to feminists, homosexuals, Jews and atheists, that if Islam wins, it's over for them."

In roundtables and forums, it has been suggested that vulnerable groups such as Roma may lose their welfare benefits with the arrival of refugees. In those events it has also been said that efforts to integrate immigrants in countries such as Germany have failed.

The legal effects of the referendum are questionable. EU officials said earlier that Hungary cannot reverse the decision already made on the refugee quotas.

A triumph would, however, blow fresh wind into the sails of Orban and Fidesz ahead of parliamentary polls due in 2018. The prime minister is looking to recapture a two-thirds majority - which would allow for key legislation such as changing the constitution.

Last update: Thu, 29/09/2016 - 13:38

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