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Hungary's ruling Fidesz avoids referendum yet again

The Budapest General Assembly voted in a special session Wednesday to withdraw a resolution it passed in April authorizing the construction of a mobile dam along the shore of the iconic Római beach in north Budapest.

The withdrawal, at first glance, would seem to be a victory for the many civilians, activists and civil organizations that have actively opposed the plans to build the dam on one of Budapest's last natural Danube shores, but some see the assembly's move as nothing more than a cynical attempt by Fidesz to avoid the embarrassment of a referendum on the issue ahead of 2018 elections.

Signature collection in support of holding such a citywide referendum began on Monday with the support of nine opposition parties. The signature drive reportedly gathered more than 10,000 of the required 138,000 signatures on the first day, suggesting the threshold would easily be met within the 30-day deadline.

But opponents of the project, who argue that the track of the dam would irrevocably damage the character of one of Budapest's last natural beach areas and would require the cutting down of some 400 trees, suspected that the referendum they'd fought hard to achieve could be sabotaged by the Fidesz-majority city assembly.

The ruling party by now has a long history of precluding the need to hold potentially embarrassing referendums, as was done in the case of possible referendums on Sunday store closures, Budapest's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, and the extension of the statute of limitations for corruption crimes.

Their suspicions were proven to be founded on Wednesday when the assembly session's only agenda point was distributed to representatives only directly before the beginning of the session, so that the council's opposition members were unaware of what they would be voting on. As index.hu reported, the session was scheduled for 8 am, earlier than most assembly sessions, and the customary live television broadcast of the proceedings was not performed.

Jobbik councilman Marcell Tokody reportedly ripped up his copy of the resolution, saying he considered it a violation of the rules that it was distributed to the representatives only directly before the session began.

"Fidesz's arrogance is boundless, and we still can't know what the capital's lord and his gang of accomplices want to make the representatives vote on," Tokody said, calling the move "a mockery of democracy."

"This was an unbelievably cowardly move on the part of [Budapest mayor István] Tarlós [pictured]," said the co-sponsor of the referendum Márton Pataki (Együtt). "The mayor said last Wednesday that we should see whether the citizens of Budapest can gather enough signatures. Fidesz is cynical and cowardly for being terrified of a referendum, and for admitting that it represents the interests of a narrow minority."

The resolution passed 18-7, and stated that the April resolution to build the dam would be withdrawn, and the path of the dam would be decided at a later date. The resolution specifically closed the possibility, however, of placing the dam along Nánási and Királyok streets, as favored by the majority of activists and civil groups. This leads some to believe that the assembly could now simply order the dam to be built in the original intended location, and the referendum question that was earlier approved by the Curia would no longer be a valid way to challenge the dam, because that referendum question proposed only the withdrawal of the resolution passed in April – which the assembly has now withdrawn. Passage of an identical resolution, but with a different resolution number, would render the referendum question ineffectual.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 October 2017 15:30

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