Hungarians will vote Sunday in a referendum which Prime Minister Viktor Orban hopes will give his government the popular support it seeks to oppose any future plans by the European Union to resettle asylum seekers among its member states.
With about 99 percent of the vote counted, more than 3.2 million voters - or about 98 of those who cast valid ballots - backed the government. The ruling party has until 7:00 PM-so less than four hours-to mobilise voters and somehow increase turnout to a minimum of 50% plus 1 vote, in order to salvage the shrill "no" (anti-migrant) campaign that has cost a staggering 10 billion forints ($45 million). Turnout had reached 39.9 percent by 5:30 p.m. (1530 GMT), the National Election Office said. An invalid referendum could diminish Orban's ability to exert pressure on Brussels to change its migration policies.
Speaking after the results were announced, President Viktor Orban said the referendum results needed to be announced and that the European Union could not "force" Hungary to accept migrants, news agencies reported on Sunday. That election gave Orban a two-thirds majority in parliament, which allowed Fidesz to change the constitution, weaken checks and balances on executive power and build what Orban has called an "illiberal state" modeled on Russian Federation and Turkey.
Orban has argued that future European Union relocation quotas could compel the country of 9.8 million to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them Muslims he says would spoil Hungary's homogenous society along with its Christian identity.
Orban said he would submit an amendment to Hungary's constitution to put the result of the plebiscite into law.
The National Committee earlier declared the referendum invalid, meaning its parliament is not compelled to vote on the outcome.
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He said that whether the referendum was valid or not, if there were more "no" votes than "yes" ones, the parliament would pass the relevant legislation.
One protester, Zsuzsa Berkesi, said they demonstrated so they "would be less ashamed of ourselves on Sunday night".
Almost 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary previous year, making their way toward Western Europe.
Hungarian police direct migrants after they cross the Hungarian-Croatian border, shortly before the border was closed past year.
The anti-migrant rhetoric has gone down well with many Hungarians at home, cementing his Fidesz party's lead over the opposition.
Hungary has recently erected a razor-wire fence that runs the entire length of the country's borders with Serbia and Croatia. There, refugees with a "high chance" getting asylum would wait for a decision on their applications and, in case of success, receive permission to settle in the country to which there were relocated.