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National Election Office Warns Counting Opposition Referendum Signatures Could Take Weeks

picture of Gergely Karácsony

The National Election Office (NVI) will begin counting the signatures collected for the opposition’s proposed referendum after boxes of signature sheets were handed over to them by opposition leaders and activists on Friday, NVI said in a statement.

The two-question referendum on a branch campus of China’s Fudan University and extending unemployment benefits was initiated by Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony (pictured). After the NVI provided signature sheets in mid-December, opposition politicians and activists spent weeks collecting the necessary number of signatures.

NVI now writes that they have sixty days to count the 235,000 signatures provided to them, of which 200,000 must be valid, and promise to do so “within the deadline set by the referendum law.” They will need to increase staffing to do this, because they have to arrange the sheets into hundreds of batches, then scan them in and count the signatures one by one.

The agency also noted that in addition to having to verify the signatures for the two referendum questions, they are in the final stages of preparing for parliamentary elections on April 3, as well as the government’s own four-question referendum on the same day. But they added that previous referenda have shown that the counting effort will take weeks.

At the opposition’s press conference held in Kossuth Square yesterday, Dialogue MP Tímea Szabó said that the National Election Office would be able to count the signatures in a single night if it wanted to, even though it has up to 60 days under the law.

As Gergely Karácsony said:

There is certainly no legal obstacle to holding a referendum on these issues on April 3rd. If Fidesz prevents this through administrative means, it will be another very strong message to the Hungarian people.

The idea for the referendum was part of Gergely Karácsony’s campaign when he was running to be the opposition’s candidate for prime minister. Péter Márki-Zay, the eventual winner of the primary election, took up the cause, after two of the mayor’s original five questions had been approved by the National Election Commission:

  • Do you agree that the maximum period for the payment of unemployment benefits should be 270 days?
  • Do you agree that the National Assembly should repeal Act LXXXI of 2021 on the Fudan Hungary University Foundation regarding the transfer of assets to the Fudan Hungary University Foundation?

Collecting signatures for the initiative began in mid-December, with the intent of holding a referendum on April 3, the day of the parliamentary election. The opposition finally collected the required number of signatures, but due to possible appeals and other conceivable administrative obstacles, the legal process is expected to drag on for so long that getting the referendum on the ballot for April 3 may not be possible.

On this day, the government will hold its own referendum on “child protection” issues at the same time as parliamentary elections are held. Under current law, however, the government did not have to collect signatures as the opposition did for its initiative.

[Telex][Photo: Gergely Karácsony / Facebook]

Posted in 2022 Elections

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