Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 07:08:50 PM EST
Today, there was a referendum in Hungary against the EU refugee quotas, one instigated by the right-populist government of prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party. With an expected turnout of around 45% and an expected high rate of spoiled ballots, it looks like it will fail the validity condition (valid votes cast should be at least 50% of eligible voters) but the Against votes will be well over 90% of valid votes.
Given that, on one hand, the referendum was the government's initiative and thus the result won't change its policy, and on the other hand, it has no bearing on EU-level decisions for or against the quotas, it would appear markedly pointless. Except, the real goal seems to be the creation of a stepping stone for Fidesz to win the next general elections (in 2018). The propaganda campaign before the referendum was unprecedented in its shrillness and underhandedness even by Fidesz standards. Although it failed at getting the turnout necessary for validity, the result is still something that Orbán can use to keep power.
frontpaged - Bjinse
Some reminders for context. Orbán chose to adopt the rhetoric of Western European anti-immigrant xenophobes relatively recently, as a reaction to a by-election loss to far-right rival Jobbik in April 2015 and as a diversion from several corruption scandals. This was at the time a wave of refugees came from Kosovo, but when a much bigger wave of mostly Syrian refugees arrived in August 2015, Orbán doubled his efforts, and styled himself as a rebel against the EU when Germany and other rich nations began to push for resettlement quotas. This year, after total surrender on another issue in the face of a potentially successful opposition-advanced referendum, Fidesz warmed up its earlier idea of a referendum in support of its anti-quota policy.
The referendum question itself was quite manipulative and nonsensical:
Do you want for the European Union to prescribe the obligatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the approval of the Hungarian Parliament?
Then came the hate campaign to get people to vote, which, once 50% turnout was seen in danger, went into an overdrive I haven't seen before:
- the sports channel of the public TV used every free time slot during the Olympics to run anti-migrant "breaking news" and government referendum commercials;
- the government spent an estimated €60 million on advertising, including an inordinate amount of billboards with scary messages for two months, and in the last few weeks, placards on state-owned buses and in metros;
- the number one public TV channel, which was turned into a 24-hour news channel under Fidesz rule, switched to airing anti-immigration scare stories only (in such a gross manner that even my pro-government colleagues referred to it as "Migrant News Channel");
- Fidesz majors were warned of repercussions if they fail to produce a high turnout, and some majors in villages (where Fidesz's most reliable voters reside) reacted by sending threats of repercussions to voters (especially dependants like old people);
- Hungarians living abroad were mass-snail-mailed, and the gathering of addresses for this action was only ruled illegal four days before the election (when it was already late);
- apparently to boost fear of terror, during the last week, there have been several reports of police finding "suspicious packages" (I myself got stuck for half an hour in a tram when a main road was blocked);
- on voting day, campaign silence violations abounded, including mass text messaging (my sister also got one), an ostensible public service announcement urging people to vote, and a TV report from Serbia claiming that half a million refugees are awaiting Hungary's referendum decision.
The excessive propaganda definitely backfired because opinion polls already showed a reduction of voting intention during the last month of the campaign. So far Fidesz also failed to win voters in opinion polls from Jobbik, which also supported the referendum. I also have doubts that Fidesz can count on using xenophobia to block out all other issues (like the spread of chronic poverty or the ever more frequent scandals of Fidesz oligarchs) for two more years.
However, Fidesz definitely succeeded in once again damaging the 'left of centre' opposition, which couldn't even agree on a single position: the small Liberal Party alone advocated a Yes vote, the party of disgraced former Socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsány advocated abstention, the Socialists refused to advocate anything and even admitted that some of their voters will vote Against, while some smaller parties and civil rights groups advocated spoilt ballots as a means of protest that is visible but won't help the referendum towards validity. The choice for opposition supporters was complicated by the fact that opposition parties sent very few delegates into the local election commissions, thus over half of these commissions consisted of right-wingers only, offering the chance of ballot fraud.
I chose the spoilt ballot option, after carefully reading up on how to spoil the ballot so that it can't be turned into a valid Against ballot after the fact.