Orban spins migrant vote result, as EU celebrates
By Eszter Zalan
European politicians have welcomed the outcome of Hungary's quota referendum, while the government in Budapest started a massive spin to limit the political fallout.
Despite giving overwhelming support to the government's rejection of the EU's mandatory quotas, less than 50 percent of voters turned up, making the referendum legally invalid.
According to the final results, 98 percent voted in support of prime minister Viktor Orban's rejection of mandatory migration quotas.
Unfortunately for Orban, just 40 percent of the electorate cast a valid vote. The official turnout was listed as 44 percent - spoiled and illegible ballots accounting for the difference.
On the night of the vote, Orban hailed the result, announced a constitutional amendment and a continued fight in Brussels, but made no mention of the invalidity of the vote.
The government's spin has been focusing on the result, rather than whether the referendum is valid or not.
"Nine out of 10 Hungarian voters said Hungary has a right to an independent decision on immigration," says their argument.
"Fifteen percent more participated now than in the EU membership vote. The weapon will be strong enough in Brussels too," Orban said, referring to the 2003 referendum on joining the bloc.
Over 3 million voters supported Orban's anti-quota, anti-migrant policy out of 8 million Hungarian voters on Sunday.
But despite the year-long anti-migrant campaign, that according to local media cost over €48 million, Orban's ruling Fidesz party was unable to attract more people than its usual base and voters from the far-right Jobbik.
Some European politicians have already welcomed the invalidity of the vote.
"The Hungarians are more European than their government," Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn was quoted by the Hungarian news wire, adding that "this is a bad day for Viktor Orban and good day for Hungary and the European Union".
Asselborn recently called for Hungary to be expelled from the EU for the way it treats migrants.
Another Luxembourg politician, MEP Frank Engel from the conservative European People's Party, the same political family of Orban, wrote on his Facebook profile: "A monstrous xenophobic government gear-up which lasted months, a country plastered with unspeakable billboard advertisements for Orban's propaganda statements which are miles away from the truth - and 55 percent of Hungarians don't go along. Bravo Hungary!"
The MEP, who used to be the EPP shadow rapporteur on Hungary when rule of law concerns arose after Orban consolidated his grip on power, went on to call for the Hungarian PM's resignation.
"The prime minister would be well advised to reconsider more than his world view. He should reconsider his position. If after all of this, Mr Orban, you can't get half your people to vote, that's a sign that your time is up," Engel wrote.
The Socialist EP group leader Gianni Pittella also welcomed the result.
"The whole of Europe has won. Populism and xenophobia have lost. Orban's lies have come up against a brick wall," he said in a statement.
"Reason wins! Hungary's vote on the refugees seem to be invalid," Cecilia Wikstroem, liberal MEP tweeted.
Orban has received support from lead Brexit campaigner, and former UK Independence Party chief, Nigel Farage, who tweeted: "Stunning result in Hungary. 95% reject EU migrant quotas. Are you listening Mrs. Merkel?"
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said the referendum "changes the problematic of national sovereignty."
She said that is was "unacceptable that the European Commission decides who can enter a national terroritory, who can stay there," and that if all EU countries held votes on migrant quotas, "all people would say no."