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Hungary's MPs narrowly reject anti-refugee constitutional change

Published 08/11/2016

Last month's referendum in Hungary was declared invalid due to low voter turnout (AP)
Last month's referendum in Hungary was declared invalid due to low voter turnout (AP)

Hungary's prime minister has failed in his attempt to push through constitutional amendments opposing any future plan by the European Union to resettle asylum seekers among members of the bloc.

MPs voted 131-3 in favour of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's proposal, but the governing Fidesz party failed to secure any opposition support and fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority of all 199 deputies necessary.

The failure to pass the five amendments, including one stating that a "foreign population cannot be settled into Hungary", was Mr Orban's second major setback after an October 2 referendum - in which over 98% of voters supported the government's anti-migrant position - was declared invalid due to low voter turnout.

Political analyst Zoltan Cegledi said the rejection of the amendments was a "defeat of power politics" in which Mr Orban and Fidesz were emphasising their ability to get things done no matter what.

"The defeat puts Orban in a very difficult communications position in which he has to explain why he is not capable of achieving anything," Mr Cegledi said.

Mr Orban's "zero migrants" policies led Hungary to build fences last year on its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia to stop the migrant flow and also resulted in draconian rules which, according to human rights groups, have practically destroyed Hungary's asylum system.

Last year, before the fences were fully in place by mid-October, nearly 400,000 migrants and refugees passed through Hungary on their way to Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe.

Mr Orban presented the constitutional amendments as necessary to keep out large numbers of mostly Muslim asylum seekers in order to protect Hungarian independence, identity and culture.

Mr Orban said the amendments were meant to show "that, without our consent and approval, no one can decide who we want to live with and how".

Earlier this year, the far-right Jobbik party had proposed amendments similar to Mr Orban's. Fidesz rejected the idea, banking instead on the expected success of the referendum.

This time, Jobbik made its support conditional on eliminating "residency bonds" which give foreigners and their immediate families Hungarian papers in exchange for buying a five-year government bond worth 300,000 euro (£267,000). Jobbik chairman Gabor Vona said the bonds, which Transparency International Hungary flagged as "the footprint of high-level corruption in the country", were the "dirty business" of Fidesz.

"Neither rich migrants nor poor migrants, neither rich terrorists nor poor terrorists can come to Hungary," Mr Vona said in parliament on Monday.

Fidesz has said it will likely eliminate the residency bonds but rejected Jobbik's "blackmail".

"Tying support for the constitutional amendment to other conditions is tantamount to treason," said Lajos Kosa, head of the Fidesz faction in parliament. In response, Jobbik MPs held up a huge banner after the vote saying "Traitors are those who, for money, also let in terrorists".

Analysts expect Fidesz to keep anti-migration high on the agenda in the run-up to elections expected in April 2018.

"In xenophobia, Fidesz has found a far-right theme it can use and it works too well for it to be cast aside," Mr Cegledi said.

AP

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