- Title: Hungary's Orban stems migrant flow, eyes political reward in quota referendum
- Date: 28th September 2016
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (English) ANALYST OF REPUBLIKON INSTITUTE CSABA TOTH SAYING: "The Hungarian referendum is mostly about the domestic political support of Fidesz. Fidesz' political support in Hungary goes up when the political debate is about migration, and goes down when it's about other issues. It's vital for Fidesz to keep the migration issue on the political agenda, and there are few better ways to do it than to have a referendum on it. This referendum is not going to change government policy, we already almost know the result of the referendum. The validity is in question, but Fidesz is already saying that it wants the people to unite behind the government on this referendum issue, a very special way to put it, but it also shows that this is not a referendum to decide government policy, it's a referendum to strengthen the government's position thereby also strengthening Fidesz domestically before the elections."
- Embargoed: 13th October 2016 11:27
- Keywords: migrant quota referendum. EU Orban
- Location: BUDAPEST, ASOTTHALOM, HUNGARY
- City: BUDAPEST, ASOTTHALOM, HUNGARY
- Country: Hungary
- Topics: Asylum/Immigration/Refugees,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00551HCWG7
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: EDITORS PLEASE NOTE: THIS STORY PREVIOUSLY RAN ON CEEF ON 14.09
Thousands of police and army forces guard the Hungarian-Serb border to fight back migrants trying to cross. Heat sensors promptly pick up body heat and a fleet of police trucks bounce along the border strip. Usually migrants quickly split up and go "back deep" into Serbian territory, police say.
The relative calm along Hungary's border with Serbia now is in stark contrast to tumultuous and uncontrolled scenes that were the norm last September, when hundreds of thousands of migrants crossed Hungary heading to western Europe, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East.
Since then, Hungarian police say they have created a system that works and have "overpowered" them.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the fiercest opponents to immigration in the European Union, has sealed off Hungary's southern borders, reducing the influx of migrants to a trickle.
The government has already started fortifying the fence with a second barrier and with a referendum on EU migrant quotas on Oct. 2, Orban now seeks to reap the political benefits of his tough measures, which have gone down well with Hungarians.
Orban called on voters to reject the EU's migrant resettlement scheme and warned that a new wave of migration would hit the Balkans if the EU's deal with Turkey, which has helped limit the flow of refugees, collapsed.
He has stepped up the anti-migrant rhetoric this week in parliament.
"We lose our European values and identity the way frogs are cooked in slowly heating water. Quite simply, slowly there will be more and more Muslims and we will no longer recognise Europe," Orban told parliament on Monday.
"What we have seen so far from the people's migration have only been warm-up rounds, the real battle is yet to come," he added. "The current policies of Brussels will lead to a civilisational catastrophe."
Based on a 28-country European survey conducted earlier this year the government-friendly think tank Szazadveg said 79 percent of Hungarians supported the border fence, second only to Bulgaria's 82 percent.
"The fence was necessary and everything else (too) but we need an even stronger defence because those bugs (the migrants) come in even through the fence," Miklos Cseve, a man in his 50s said in downtown Budapest. He will go and vote "no" to EU quotas.
"I think people know themselves how to vote, no need for so many posters telling them how to vote or not. People know very well what the Christian European culture means and they will defend it," Maria Szeplaki, another voter added.
Orban seeks to capitalise on the anti-migrant sentiment with a strong campaign for the referendum, with billboards nationwide that link migration to terrorism and threaten with millions of more migrants.
"Did you know that since the start of the migration crisis assaults on women have increased sharply?" some billboards say.
Orban says he needs the referendum to secure a strong political mandate from Hungarians to fight in Brussels for a change in European migration policies, which he says threaten with a "civilisational catastrophe."
At home, the plebiscite allows him to keep the issue of migration on the political agenda and divert attention from areas where his government's track record is weak, such as problems in education, analyst Csaba Toth of think tank Republikon Institute said.
"This is not a referendum to decide government policy, it is a referendum to strengthen the government's position thereby also strengthening Fidesz domestically before the elections," Toth said.
"Fidesz' political support goes up when the political debate is about migration, it goes down when it's about other issues... It is vital for Fidesz to keep the migration issue on the political agenda."
A fresh opinion poll by Republikon shows support for Fidesz at 28 percent of the electorate in August, up 4 points from July, versus the strongest opposition party, radical nationalist Jobbik's 10 percent which declined one point from July. The next elections are due in April or May 2018.
The voter support for Orban's fence is so overwhelming that it puts the opposition in a difficult position.
But on Monday, radical nationalist Jobbik party's leader Gabor Vona piled political pressure on Orban saying he should resign if voters fail to turn out in sufficient numbers in the referendum.
The vote will be invalid unless at least 50 percent of the electorate, or around 4 million voters, take part.
The Socialists on Monday (September 12) urged Hungarians to stay away from the referendum, which they say only serves Fidesz' domestic political interests.
On the streets the only visible campaign against the referendum come from a small spoof party called Two-Tailed Dog Party. Their posters are mocking the government's anti-immigrant rhetoric but unlikely to have substantial impact.
The latest polls show it is still uncertain whether a sufficient number of Hungarians will turn out to cast a vote but Toth said the outcome could almost be taken for granted.
"We know that even if it is not a valid referendum legally, meaning only 30 percent or 40 percent show up, those who do show up will support the government," Toth said.
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