Guest Post

5 Reasons Orbán Didn’t Lose This Referendum

Guest post

Victory has many winners but defeat is an orphan. Everybody claimed victory after yesterday’s referendum, picking the facts that proved them right. The Fidesz-led  government claims victory since 98.3% voted ‘no’ – while the opposition claims that it’s a defeat for Orbán since less than 50% of the electorate participated (40%), and the referendum was thus not valid. 

EDITOR’s NOTE – Creativity was the obvious winner of yesterday’s referendum. Over 200k people (6.3% of voters) turned up to cast an invalid vote on the call of the satirical joke party – which would get into parliament with these results.

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Several analysts reasoned as follows:


The insidious hate campaign leading up to today’s referendum on compulsory refugee quotas has failed, badly. First of all, only 43.8% of the electorate went to the polls, far below the necessary 50% plus 1. Even more telling is that only 39.93% of the electorate cast a valid vote; 60.07% either spoiled their ballots or didn’t bother to vote. (…..)

I was most curious to see how Viktor Orbán would try to turn this fiasco into a victory. Well, here is his take on it. In 2003, 3,056,027 people voted in favor of joining the European Union. This time 3,237,415 people voted against the European Union’s right to foist unwanted migrants on Hungary. Moreover, 15% more people voted in today’s referendum than in the European parliamentary elections of 2014. Therefore, this referendum is a stunning success. It boggles the mind.”

I believe these analyses are wrong because they fail to consider the true nature and motivations of the Orbán regime. When implementing policies, it’s governed by improvisation and power. The circumstances under which this referendum was decided tells it all. The decisions taken by the Orbán government during the last six years are not the subject of this post, but suffice to say they were usually in the interest of Orbán and his cronies, at the expense of the average tax payer.

Here are some of the claims Orbán’s opponents celebrate – and why they are wrong.

1 The government spent more on the campaign than both sides of the Brexit referendum combined (approximately EUR 50 million), and didn’t even achieve a valid result.   

The ad campaigns have been outsourced to agencies close to Fidesz, and they benefited regardless of the result. The government is not really interested in how taxpayer money is spent as long as it ends in the right pockets.

The result was not really important – the question is meaningless – but in the meantime almost nobody talked about the rampant corruption, the state of education and health system. Mission accomplished.

2 The result was invalid, less than 50 % bothered to participate – so the referendum is a failure.

The government was actually able to mobilize 3.2 million people on a Sunday to vote on a bullshit question, were there was no doubt of the outcome. To put this into context: Fidesz received 2.2 million votes in the 2014 general elections while their biggest competitor- the far right received 1 million. This is the base Fidesz most probably relies upon for the next elections.

3 Fidesz has not been able to increase it’s base

True, but it hasn’t shrunk either despite a dismal performance. Most opinion polls show a dissatisfaction with the level of corruption and state of education and health care system. According to estimates, 500,000 Hungarians have left the country since 2010, and more are planning emigration. So these are pretty good numbers after six years in power.

4 This is a victory for the opposition and their campaign for boycott. 

We don’t know the reason for why people chose to abstain. Election participation in Hungary is not very high, this is one of the reason why Fidesz can claim that more people (3.2 million) voted against quotas than for EU membership  – 3.05 million in 2003. The participation in the 2003 referendum was 45.6%. An educated guess would be that people don’t want to spend a Sunday voting when the outcome is pretty sure. Neither has the opposition parties’  poll numbers changed for the better.

5 The majority of the Hungarian people has said no to nationalism and xenophobia.

There is no evidence of this. According to polls, the resistance to refugees has increased and solidarity with asylum seekers has decreased since the summer of 2015. At this point we cannot know what view the absentees hold.

In conclusion, Orbán has gained momentum, but the fiscal burden falls on the taxpayers. Yesterday’s referendum can be seen as a rehearsal for the next general election. The main goal was probably not a valid referendum, but to energize the base, and divert attention from the shortcomings of the government, while lining the pockets of Fidesz-friendly media and loyalists in general. In actual democracies referendums ask clear and meaningful questions. Yesterday’s sham doesn’t even come close.

Until observers understand the inner logic of the Orbán regime, they will continue to draw the wrong conclusions. The same goes for the group in parliament which call themselves the opposition. 

This was a guest post. Tell us your stories at meanwhileinbudapest (at), or follow us on Facebook , Twitter @_MwBp , or subscribe to newsletter


One thought on “5 Reasons Orbán Didn’t Lose This Referendum

  1. Pingback: The Order Doesn’t Have To Come From Viktor | Meanwhile in Budapest

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