opposition party Fidesz last Tuesday said it was aiming to put six referendum
questions on government policy to the nation next spring after the National
Election Committee (OVB) finally cleared the party’s proposals.
first announced the referendum drive at a rally on 23 October last year – a day
when some supporters were caught up in anti-government rioting after the rally
had concluded – but has faced a long fight to have the questions allowed. The
OVB initially only allowed three out of seven questions, saying that those
rejected – on charges for healthcare and higher education – could not be
allowed as they affected the current budget. However, Fidesz modified the
questions to refer to the future and the
ordered the OVB to re-examine the three questions.
September signature drive
chairman Zoltán Pokorni called the decision a “victory” and said that the party
would collect the 200,000 signatures necessary to call the referendum this
September. He said that the referendum would allow a “valuable debate on the
direction the country is moving in” and take place next spring.
raised the issue of the referendum after other attempts to force Prime Minister
Ferenc Gyurcsány out of office failed. Gyurcsány provoked a storm last
September after a tape was leaked to the press on which he admitted lying about
the state of the economy before the April 2006 general elections. However,
Gyurcsány survived anti-government riots, a vote of confidence in Parliament
(in which his government holds a comfortable majority) and major street rallies
organised by Fidesz calling for his head.
referendum be successful, it would likely have only a small impact on the
government’s attempts to reduce its massive budget deficit and join the euro
zone. The government is aiming to cut its deficit – which at 9.2% of gross
domestic product in 2006 was by far the largest in the EU – to 3.2% by 2009.
Fees for visits to the doctor and the hospital have already been introduced,
and tuition fees are mooted for introduction in late 2008. Fidesz aims to
challenge these charges with the three questions that were finally cleared. The
questions previously passed were on hospital privatisation, allowing the sale
of non-prescription drugs outside pharmacies and on the sale of farmland.
political impact of an opposition victory in the referendum could be much
larger. While the ruling Socialist-liberal coalition easily won the general
elections, recent polls suggest that support for Gyurcsány’s Socialists has
plummeted. The introduction of the austerity measures, which included heavy tax
and energy price hikes, and Gyurcsány’s admission both contributed to the
dramatic fall in popularity.
analysts have said that Gyurcsány’s support within his party has fallen and
feel that a referendum defeat could lead his party to drop him before the next
elections in 2010.
needs the support of at least 25% of registered voters and a simple majority
for each question to win the referendum.
December 2004, which raised the questions of giving dual citizenship to ethnic
Hungarians outside the nation’s borders and of hospital privatisation, failed
due to a low turnout (less than 50% of eligible voters cast ballots).