Hungary: Lawmakers reject anti-migrant constitutional change

AP News
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Posted: Nov 08, 2016 9:41 AM
Hungary: Lawmakers reject anti-migrant constitutional change

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's prime minister failed Tuesday 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.

Lawmakers voted 131-3 in favor 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. All opposition lawmakers either voted against the proposal or abstained.

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

Foreign Minister Peter Sziijarto said the EU mandatory quota scheme to resettle asylum-seekers, which has yet to be approved, "is a bad answer to the migrant crisis ... and will practically lead to Europe's ruin."

"Today it became clear that in terms of protecting the country, the Hungarian people can only count on the government," Szijjarto said. "Defending the country's security and lowering the risk of terrorism are national issues ... but we can't count on the opposition parties."

Political analyst Zoltan Cegledi said the rejection of the amendments was a "defeat of power politics" in which Orban and Fidesz were emphasizing 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 isn't capable of achieving anything," Cegledi said.

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.

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.

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 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 euros ($331,000). By the end of August, more than 7,500 people, including 6,405 from China and 497 from Russia, had gained residence in Hungary under the program.

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.

"For Fidesz, dirty money is more important than the true security of the country," Vona told reporters after the vote. "The very moment the government eliminates the bonds, Jobbik is willing to vote for the constitutional amendment even within 24 hours."

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 lawmakers 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," Cegledi said.