After weeks of decreased activity and some internal skirmishes, the representatives of the opposition alliance’s parties have finally stood up on Wednesday to hold a joint press conference calling on the public to support their referendum initiative which they say would be “a step towards changing the government”. While they insist that they will easily collect the relevant numbers of signatures, they are still short of about half of the minimum number.
Eventually, instead of the planned five, only two questions of the opposition managed to pass through the National Election Office (NVB).
- the first one will be on scrapping the law establishing China’s Fudan University,
- while the second one is on the extension of jobseekers’ allowance to 270 days (it was reduced to 90 days by Fidesz after they took power).
- the questions on making covid antigen tests free for people over 60, Hungary’s accession to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and imposing a ban on motorways’ concessions didn’t get the green-light.
So now, the initiators have to collect some 200,000 valid signatures, officially until mid-January. (The government has also initiated a referendum but due to different rules, they don’t have to collect any signatures).
Delay and inactivity
Although it has already begun, several press reports stipulate that the signature drive perhaps didn’t go forward as planned. Indeed, mobilization and the parties’ visible efforts are nowhere near the activity of what could have been experienced before and during the primary elections.
Párbeszéd’s Richárd Barabás said earlier that the drive should be completed by January 10 in order for the referendum to be able to be held on the same day, together with the general elections (and Fidesz’s gender-themed vote), although this is yet to be confirmed by the parties and the election office. Both him and LMP’s Erzsébet Schmuck, however insisted that bagging the relevant number of signatures is only a matter of days.
According to Monday reports, to that date, only some 75,000 signatures were collected. Although the Two-tailed dog party (MKKP) itself reportedly gathered some 15,000, and according to the satirical side that refused to ally with the opposition for the elections, this number may be on top of the aforementioned. On Wednesday, Budapest Mayor and Párbeszéd co-president Gergely Karácsony said they had collected “almost 100,000” signatures.
Opposition: a referendum “to stem corruption and poverty”
Péter Márki-Zay, prime ministerial candidate of the united opposition, called on voters to support the referendum “to stem corruption and poverty”. One of the referendum’s two questions aims to provide affordable housing for students as opposed to plans to construct a campus of Fudan University at the site. The other question is about the opposition’s initiative to extend the period of unemployment benefits from three months to nine, which he said was the shortest in the European Union.
The referendum, he insisted, had a “larger significance” and would help the opposition win “a majority which could release Hungary from the most corrupt government in its history”.
Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Budapest and co-leader of the Párbeszéd party, said that Hungary needs “a government which serves the people” rather than “rulers who lord over them”, adding that the six opposition parties had formed an alliance to make that happen.
Democratic Coalition (DK) MEP Klára Dobrev said “each signature is as much contribution as a vote” to replacing the government and building a “freer, more democratic Hungary”.
Momentum leader Anna Donáth said a longer period of unemployment benefits would help to remedy Hungary’s “existential problems”.
Co-leader of the Socialist Party (MSZP) Ágnes Kunhalmi called on citizens to back plans to build a “student city” instead of creating a campus for China’s Fudan University.
LMP co-leader Máté Kanász-Nagy said that the referendum was motivated by a desire to create greater social security.
Jobbik deputy leader Dániel Z. Kárpát said that an opposition government would “steer the country towards western prosperity rather than in the direction of Eastern dictatorships”. He insisted that the ruling Fidesz party was “pseudo-patriotic” and “betrayed Hungary’s young people”. A government run by the current opposition, he added, would offer a rental subsidies, student hostels, and “opportunities to prosper in the homeland”.
featured image illustration via Gergely Karácsony’s Facebook page