Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will seek today (8 November) to bar the resettlement of refugees via a constitutional amendment, but the bid could be thwarted by an unlikely opponent – the radical right Jobbik party.
For the populist strongman’s continuing revolt against Brussels to succeed his ruling right-wing Fidesz party needs to pick up two extra votes in parliament to reach a two-thirds majority for the measure to pass.
The anti-immigration Jobbik party is a natural ally on the issue, but it is currently vying with the Socialists as the second most popular party in the country, and laid a surprise ambush for Orbán earlier this month.
Spotting a rare opportunity for leverage, Jobbik’s leader Gábor Vona announced after a recent one-on-one meeting with Orbán they would vote for the bill only if the government scrapped a controversial cash-for-residency bond scheme for wealthy foreigners, particularly from Russia, China and the Middle East.
Jobbik have long called the residency bonds, generally sold via shady offshore companies, a “dirty business” and a national security risk that could be exploited even by Islamic State jihadists.
“Neither poor nor rich migrants should be allowed to settle in Hungary,” Vona said.
Unused to not getting his own way since winning a supermajority in 2010 and reelection in 2014, Orbán was caught offguard by the ultimatum and initially said he would “consider” Vona’s gambit.
But the leader later told parliament that the government “would not give in to blackmail” and urged Jobbik not to connect the bond scheme with the change to the constitution which he called “an affair of national importance”.
Observers say Tuesday’s knife-edge vote could set the scene for a growing power struggle between Fidesz and Jobbik ahead of the next scheduled general election in 2018.
“If Jobbik do not back the amendment, it would unquestionably wound Viktor Orbán. It would be the first time since 2010 that the parliament votes against the PM, or that Orbán has failed to get through something important to him,” leading news website Index.hu wrote on Monday.
The parliamentary ballot follows an expensive and divisive referendum on 2 October, in which 3.3 million voters backed Orbán’s rejection of the European Union’s troubled refugee quota plan.
The ballot, however, was deemed invalid due to low turnout in the nation of nearly 10 million people.
Undeterred, Orbán still hailed the outcome as “a sweeping victory” over “Brussels bureaucrats” and vowed to change the constitution to “reflect the will of the people”.
Submitting a draft amendment personally to parliament the week after the referendum, Orbán proposed a ban on migrant settlement without the approval of the national assembly and authorities.
“Foreign populations cannot be settled in Hungary,” the amendment reads. Individual foreigners (not including EU nationals) can only live in Hungary with the approval of Hungarians, it continues.
But the government’s argument that the amendment is key to Hungary’s future does not convince political analysts.
“The amendment wouldn’t really have any legal impact, nor would it clash with EU law, foreigners already only enter Hungary on an individual basis,” said Bulcsu Hunyadi of the Political Capital analyst firm.
“It’s rather aimed at domestic politics, to make it look like the government is challenging Brussels,” said Kornelia Magyar, director of the Budapest-based Progressive Institute.
With Jobbik holding firm that it will not support the bill, and other opposition parties either boycotting the vote or abstaining, the vote may fail unless some rebel lawmakers cross the floor.
But even if it fails, it can still be a win for Fidesz, whose poll ratings have soared over its tough handling of the migration crisis, said Magyar.
“Orbán can then continue his anti-migration rhetoric at home until the next election in 2018, and scapegoat Jobbik as not defending the nation,” she added.