19.01.2017

Dismantling direct democracy in Hungary

On the Hungarian law governing referendums and how they have been abused by the government of Victor Orbán to dismantle direct democracy in Hungary

Democracy explicitly lives from the premise of active participation of its citizens. For this, there are many ways of democratic participation in a democratic state: petitions, elections, active engagement in local communities as well as protests and strikes. Adding to this list of direct democratic tools, a referendum is a tool outside the parliamentary system meant to counterbalance the prevailing government’s power, thus giving citizens the opportunity to articulate and voice their thoughts, worries and needs.

Against the backdrop of last year’s rising right-wing populism feeding itself off the refugee emergency ― the European Union has seen a number of referendums being conducted in its Member States. The beginning of 2016 was marked by Hungary’s “skinhead scandal” when young muscular men hindered the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party from submitting their referendum proposal. In response, Orbán’s government announced the need for changes in the legal framework to conduct referenda in general. Nevertheless, it did not prevent the government from initiating a referendum against mandatory relocation quotas just one day after the scandal happened, with the following question being asked:

Do you want to allow the European Union to mandate the resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary without the approval of the National Assembly?

Róbert László, political analyst and election specialist, argues that this referendum question should have never been authorized by the Hungarian authorities. In an article published by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, László blames the lack of regulations and the changes introduced since 2010 to the legal framework for referendums. Consequently, under Orbán’s government, the function and the role of a referendum as a practice of direct democracy has recognizably diminished, making it possible that referendums will be conducted only if they can be expected to achieve results in favour of the government.

Read more about the legal specificities and the Hungarian law governing referendums and how they have been abused by the government of Victor Orbán in order to dismantle direct democracy in Hungary. 

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