The Hungarian National Assembly has voted not to accept Viktor Orbán’s constitutional amendment regarding the prohibition of quotas for the settlement of refugees. The far-right Jobbik, as well as the left-wing LMP (Politics Can Be Different) and MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) abstained, while three independent Members of Parliament voted against the amendment, and as a result the government failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment.
A two-thirds majority would require the support of 133 MPs, meaning that the amendment failed to pass by just two votes, as the parliament voted 131 for, 3 against, 65 abstaining. This propsed constitutional amendment is the seventh such amendment presented by Mr. Orbán’s government to the parliament for consideration.
The Fidesz-KDNP (Alliance of Young Democrats-Christian Democratic Peoples’ Party) ruling coalition’s representatives voted in favor of the amendment, while Jobbik, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, abstained. Hungary’s leftwing parties had already signaled that they would not support the amendment, and they followed through on that promise, with the representatives of MSZP, LMP, and DK (Democratic Coalition) all abstaining, as did the Együtt (Together) Party’s two and the Párbeszéd (Dialogue for Hungary) Party’s sole representative. In addion, the three ‘nay’ votes were cast by independent MPs Gábor Fodor, Zoltán Kész, and Péter Kónya.
The outcome of the vote was very much up in the air until the last minute. The far-right Jobbik party originally supported the amendment in principle, agreeing that a constitutional amendment against the EU’s refugee resettlement quota system was necessary. Nor did they disagree with the proposed amendment’s language or content, and yet ultimately they chose not to support Mr. Orbán.
During voting, Jobbik MPs unfurled a banner, with an orange logo that imitated Fidesz’s, in which the word ‘Fidesz’ was written in was written in a font that vaguely resembled Islamic State logos, with the ‘S’ replaced by a dollar sign. “The real traitor is the one who would allow terrorists in for money!” the banner said; this was referring to the government’s refusal to accept Jobbik’s demands that the amendment also include language banning residency bonds. In addition, during the debate socialist party representatives helped up pieces of paper holding pictures of helicopters —a reference to Fidesz MP Antal Rogán’s recent scandal surrounding his use of a luxury helicopter on the day of the recent referendum.
Almost immediately after the October 2nd referendum on EU migration quotas, Mr. Orbán announced his intention to propose a constitutional amendment on the issue. Despite the fact that the referendum ended with not enough voters participating to be deemed valid, the Prime Minister said that from a ‘political point of view’ he felt required to listen to the will of the 3.3 million ‘No’ votes in the referendum.
According to Mr. Orbán, the most important aspect of the proposed amendment was the passage stating that “those persons without legal rights to free movement and residency in Hungary should only be allowed to settle in the country based on a request that would be processed by Hungarian authorities, that in turn would be based on laws passed by the Hungarian National Assembly. Group settlement is forbidden.”
During his proposition of the amendment, Orbán referred to the results of October’s referendum: “A new unity has come together for Hungary. This new unity stands above parties, and it views the defense of Hungary’s sovereignty and the rejection of mandatory settlement quotas as matters of national import.”
Since Jobbik and is also opposed to EU quotas, the government theoretically could have counted on their support in parliament. But Jobbik leader Gábor Vona, surprising the ruling coalitoin, asking to meet with Mr. Orbán personally to discuss the matter, a meeting to which the Prime Minister agreed. Despite this, however, Mr. Vona nevertheless announced that his party would only vote with the government if the government agreed to include language banning residency bonds.
Even though both Mr. Orbán and the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, János Lázár, had both made statements that the government would end residency bonds, Jobbik MPs felt that this was not enough, since the government had yet to bring a resolution regarding the matter.
The government, responding to Jobbik’s threat to block the passage of the constituional amendmnet, responded that this move was nothing more than a pitiful attempt at extortion, which they were not willing to respond to. And in an emergency meeting on Monday, the majority of government MPs voted not to give in to Jobbik demands.
Since the failure of the vote, reactions from leading politicans have been varied. Immediately following the results of the parliamentary vote, the Prime Minister refused to rule out the possibility of reintroducing the amendment at a later date, saying “it will be decided at the party leaders’ meeting.” Interestingly, even before the vote Mr. Orbán was already laying the groundwork for a potential defeat, saying in an interview on Kossuth Radio two weeks ago that he viewed the amendment’s defeat as a ‘possibility.’
Jobbik leader Gábor Vona, in a press conference following the vote, said that “Today’s vote was both a political and an ethical thrashing for Fidesz. It turns out that for Fidesz, the issue of defending the country is just empty talk, the main goal is to loot and steal.” Continuing, Vona reaffirmed his party’s opposition to residency bonds, emphasizing that “the current threat to Hungary’s security doesn’t come from EU settlement quotas, but rather from immigration made possibly by these residency bonds.” After expounding on his theory that these residency bonds throw a life-line of sorts to wealthy supporters of the Islamic State fleeing Iraq, Vona added that “If Fidesz ends the residency bond program, Jobbik is willing to vote for the constitutional amendment within 24 hours.”
Speaking on behalf of Fidesz, MP Lajos Kósa argued that the largest opposition parties, Jobbik and MSZP, had both been dishonest with Hungarian voters; Jobbik, because it had previously agreed to vote for the amendment, and MSZP because it had promised to vote against EU resettlement quotas, Mr. Kósa said. He added that now, despite these promises, both failed to support the amendment. Saying that these two parties had “misled the Hungarian people,” Mr. Kósa said that the only honorable member of the opposition was former socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, currently head of the left-wing DK party, who from the beginning was open in his opposition to both the referendum and the proposed constitutional amendment.
Responding to Jobbik’s claims of terrorist infiltration coming through the residency bond program, Mr. Kósa responded that “It is pure idiocy to think that terrorists would come to Hungary via residency bonds,” and added that those who believe otherwise either have no understanding of politics, or they are liars. Emphasizing that bond applicants go through Hungary’s most thorough vetting process, Mr. Kósa said that, in comparison, “It is much more dangerous to simply take a walk down the street. In fact, there is a greater chance of a shark attack than for terrorists to come via residency bonds.” Mr. Kósa also stated that Fidesz will make a decision on the issue of residency bonds independently of Jobbik.
Photos via MTI and Index.hu