Hungary's Orban shrugs off migration referendum failure

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday shrugged off the failure of an anti-immigration referendum he called, saying that the volume of support pleased him.

"The referendum achieved the goal," Orban told the national parliament a day after the vote was invalidated due to insufficient turnout. "It clarified things."

Only 40 per cent of the electorate turned out on Sunday, while more than half was required for a valid result.

Nearly all of those who did cast a ballot - 98.3 per cent, or 3.2 out of around 8 million registered voters - had backed Orban by responding with "no."

Hungarians were asked whether they agree with the European Union's compulsory resettlement of refugees across the bloc. But it was never clear what the ramifications of a valid referendum vote would be.

"We attacked Brussels' system of [refugee] quotas," Orban said, insisting that the referendum result "shows we must fight."

While the opposition called the failed referendum a defeat for Orban, there appeared to be no immediate political repercussions. "Orban still has voters behind him," the pro-opposition Nepszabadsag daily admitted.

The European Commission takes note of the referendum outcome, said spokesman Margaritis Schinas, while observing that it had been declared legally void. "We respect the democratic will of the Hungarian people, both of those who voted and of those who did not," he added.

Orban emerged as the leader of the EU's anti-immigration bloc at the peak of the migration crisis late last year.

He fenced Hungary off toward Serbia and Croatia, barring passage to hundreds of thousands of people arriving mostly from Syria and hoping to receive asylum in wealthy EU countries further west.

Budapest also sought to legally block the EU agreement - after it and several other Eastern European countries were outvoted - to redistribute 160,000 confirmed refugees across the bloc.

The referendum came halfway through Orban's third term and ahead of 2018 polls.

Last update: Mon, 03/10/2016 - 13:34
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