More than 266,000 signatures were collected toward a referendum, well in excess of the 138,000 required. The left-wing Democratic Coalition congratulated the civil movement and the people of Budapest for the surprisingly high number of signatures.
The civil group Momentum Movement said it submitted over a quarter million signatures to the Budapest election office to initiate a local referendum on Budapest's bid to host the 2024 Olympic Summer Games. "Our message to Fidesz, Viktor Orbán and [Budapest Mayor] István Tarlós is that it was a grave error on their part not to have sought out the public's opinion on Hungary's bid to host the Olympics," András Fekete-Győr, the movement's leader, said in front of the election office. Momentum will now do so in their place, he said, announcing that the movement had collected a total of 266,151 signatures.
He called on Orbán and Tarlós not to tymie the referendum, arguing that doing so would be an act of cowardice on their part. Getting in the way of the referendum would also be a betrayal of those who support Hungary's Olympic bid, he added. Earlier in the day, Tarlós said he would consider whether Budapest's bid should be withdrawn if local residents supported a referendum on it. Tarlós blamed the opposition for earlier supporting the Olympic plans then "backing out" and called the opposition's attitude "treachery".
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Budapest Mayor István Tarlós discussed the future of the city's bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics after a civil movement had initiated a local referendum on the issue. The civil Momentum Movement on Friday submitted over 266,000 signatures in favour of putting the bid to a public vote. Momentum's referendum question reads: "Do you agree that the municipality of Budapest should withdraw its bid to host the 2024 Olypmic and Paralympic Games?" Orbán and Tarlós agreed that the Budapest Assembly and the cabinet will each discuss the matter at their respective meetings next Wednesday. The two leaders will then meet again that evening or on Thursday at the latest to discuss how to proceed with the Olympic bid. Tarlós said he would consider whether Budapest's bid should be withdrawn if local residents supported a referendum on it.
Momentum leader András Fekete-Győr said that "more than a quarter million signatures were collected so that the money pencilled in for the Olympics could instead be spent on modernising hospitals and schools." Momentum's signature drive had support from several opposition parties. Green LMP said that the majority of the money originally intended to be spent on hosting the Olympics should be spent on Budapest. The city's residents generate 40% of Hungary's GDP and its debt is expected to reach 160 billion forints (EUR 520m) by 2020. Antal Csárdi, the party's Budapest councillor, said the number of signatures submitted for the referendum has revealed that the city cannot be managed above the heads of its residents and that Budapest's residents want a well-operating city with clean roads and hospitals at European quality instead of an Olympics.
Most commentators believe that the governing forces will withdraw Budapest's Olympic bid. They also ponder whether Momentum, after this spectacular success, will become a significant opposition force.
In his weekend Népszava editorial, Péter Németh predicts that Prime Minister Orbán will not want to engage in a lengthy battle over the Olympic bid, as he usually avoids confrontation whenever he encounters strong resistance. He has shown similar flexibility in the past, when he scrapped the Internet tax and the ban on Sunday shopping.
Magyar Hírlap's Károly Bán asserts that over 266,000 signatures could not have been collected if the left-wing opposition parties had remained faithful to their commitment to the idea of the Budapest Olympics. In the Budapest municipal assembly all voted in favour of the Olympic bid, with the lone exception of the representative of the LMP. Bán also quotes an earlier statement by Szeged Mayor László Botka who is now the Socialist candidate for Prime Minister, that it was worthwhile "to struggle for the Olympic Games to be hosted by Hungary." On the left, Bán concludes, short term political gains weigh more than a national cause.
Mandiner's András Stumpf accuses both sides of chasing political gains rather than standing up for their opinions on the Olympics. Momentum, he explains doesn't want the Olympics to be held in Hungary, but when its leaders heard that Budapest might withdraw its bid, they cautioned the governing forces against such "cowardice", rather than declaring victory. In other words, they are waging a campaign against the government for their own sake as a new party, rather than against the Budapest Olympics. On the other hand, Stumpf continues, Fidesz is famous for being a great supporter of referenda. But when over 200 thousand citizens ask for one, then the governing party prepares to withdraw the Olympic bid rather than trying to save its Olympic idea. Political interests trump everything else, he concludes.
On Sztárklikk, a left-wing website, Zoltán Czeglédi argues that the left-wing parties have no reason to be jealous of Momentum. The job of the new movement which will shortly become a political party is to win over new constituencies. If the MSZP and the DK were able to recruit pensioners, the lower rural middle class, teachers or health care workers , then their electorate would increase threefold. That is precisely what they should be doing. Momentum on the other hand should mobilise urban, liberal minded and young voters. Those two constituencies do not compete with each other, Czeglédi explains.
On Kettős Mérce, András Jámbor, another prominent left wing pundit calls the success of the referendum initiative a victory for the opposition as a whole, including those who did not contribute to it. He says left-wing forces should draw strength from what he calls a factual defeat of Fidesz by a spontaneous initiative "from below". This is the path, he believes, along which the incumbent ruling forces can be defeated. He invites the opposition forces to consider this feat as a first step and start working on the follow-up.
In his Magyar Nemzet column, Albert Gazda takes it for granted that the governing forces will withdraw the Olympic bid in order to prevent Momentum from pursuing its campaign any further. The new movement will therefore be forced to find new causes to fight for, which can also mobilise Hungarian citizens. He doesn't know whether Momentum will be able to do so. At any rate, he considers the referendum initiative as a rehearsal, and he looks forward to seeing the main performance.
In Magyar Narancs, András Keszthelyi thinks that Momentum has better chances than previous spontaneous initiatives to develop into a sizeable political force. Mainly because its founders want to set up a political party rather than an NGO and behave like professional politicians have to. Their demeanour reminds him of Fidesz itself 27 years ago. They are also young and untainted by the tortuous struggles and mistakes of the past 27 years. Sooner or later, however, they will have to come up with a palpable political agenda and nobody knows at present how smart and convincing they will be in tackling the country's problems.
On Paraméter, János Széky, who is a leading analyst at Élet és Irodalom, confesses to feeling elated at the news of what he calls a "tactical defeat" by Fidesz. His main point however is that Momentum has opened a breach in the wall of the political caste that has ruled Hungary for the past 25 years. Earlier, all parliamentary parties were fond of the idea of hosting the Olympic games in Budapest and were united in proclaiming that no new forces had any chance of penetrating the political space. He hopes that Momentum, when it transforms itself into a political party, will be successful and put an end to the exclusive rule of the current political caste.
Budapest Mayor István Tarlós told a press conference last Friday that if enough signatures are gathered to generate a referendum on whether Budapest should host the 2024 Summer Olympics, then he will personally consider whether the city should withdraw its application from the Olympic Committee.
"In the case of there officially being plenty of signatures, and if the issue is seriously considered, then I will recommend to the Budapest Assembly to decide on the withdrawal of the submitted Olympics application," Tarlós said.
However, Tarlós said he thinks the initiative to force a referendum should have taken place earlier, arguing that several years ago, during the initial formation of policy concerning an Olympic bid, the government was eager to hold a referendum on the issue but that there was no substantial opposition.
But Tarlós himself made statements in 2014 in opposition to a Budapest Olympic bid.
"I played sports and I too am friendly to sports, and of course the value to sports and the value of tourism would be great if there would be the Olympics here one day, but I'm amazed by these propositions right now," Tarlós told ATV in 2014, adding that a Budapest Olympics would be "unrealistic."
Asked at the press conference about his about face, Tarlós said that his 2014 statements were before he had seen more concrete plans and impact studies, and that his opinion on the Olympics had since changed.
In the case of a referendum, the mayor promised that he would not deceive or manipulate the Hungarian people by slowing down the process until the last possible moment, which could render it ineffective. If he sees such political machinations, Tarlós says, he will speak out.
However index.hu reports that political maneuvering could draw out the process of organizing the referendum until September or October. According to the newsportal, much depends election officials, the courts, and political will.
Even in less politically contentious circumstances, the process can easily take several months, and regardless of what happens in Hungary, the International Olympic Committee will decide on September 13th which city will host the Olympic Games in 2024. From the perspective of Olympics opponents, holding a referendum well in advance of the committee's decision promises to be the most effective route to derailing the project. Index.hu published a kind of roadmap Friday morning highlighting various scenarios of how the process could evolve in Hungary over the coming months.
To begin with, Budapest election officials must establish that enough valid signatures were gathered to put the issue on the ballot. There is debate, however, regarding just how many signatures are needed, but according to rules established by the Budapest Elections Office, the signature-gathering campaign will be considered a success if the total number of signatures is equal to 10 percent of the population of Budapest plus one signature, or around 138,000 signatures. Just to be safe, it will be necessary for activists to submit well over the minimum because – as past experiences have shown – anywhere from 10-20 percent of the signatures gathered are usually invalid. (Most recent numbers Friday indicate that more than 266,000 signatures were collected by the Nolimpia campaign, well in excess of the required number.)
After determining that enough signatures were gathered, Index reports there are two different timelines for how the process could proceed.
First, if there are absolutely no hang-ups in the process, the referendum could be called as soon as early summer. This assumes that the authorities do not slow down the process, and that there are no lawsuits challenging the referendum — which seems unlikely.
The second and more likely scenario would involve all authorities involved dragging the process out until the last possible moment. If this happens, the referendum may be called as late as September or October. If the IOC chooses another city when it makes its decision on September 13th, the referendum in Budapest would be rendered completely useless. However, if Budapest is chosen by the IOC to host the games, the importance of the referendum would drastically increase. Budapest residents would be in the position to decide on whether to reject the IOC's decision.
Regarding potential roadblocks of the referendum, it is important to see the process as a series of steps, any one of which has the potential to slow down the process.
According to Index, if challenged along every step of the way, the referendum process could hit a wall anywhere along its path from the Budapest Elections Office to the Budapest Election Committee, and then to the Curia, Hungary's highest court. Then it could get sent back to the Budapest Election Committee, then the mayor's office, the Budapest City Council, yet another appeal at the Curia, and back to the Budapest Election Committee. Only then can the referendum finally be scheduled to take place anywhere from 50-70 days after the election committee announces its validity.
Ultimately, the timeline for the process depends largely on political maneuvering. According to Index, Fidesz's tactics will have the most power, as the party controls the Budapest City Council. For Fidesz, rather than slowing the process until fall, it might make the most sense to push for the referendum to be held in summer, when people are traditionally on vacation and less engaged in politics. At least 50 percent of Budapest residents must cast a ballot for the referendum to be valid. But a summer referendum can only take place if the Budapest City Council, the election authorities, and the Curia waste no time in rendering their decisions.
How the IOC sees events transpiring in Budapest may influence their decision to let the Olympic Games be hosted in Hungary. According to Index, the majority of Budapest residents want the city to withdraw its bid from the IOC, which could make the city less attractive to the committee.
The small opposition party LMP party wants a parliamentary committee to look into details of how public funds for financing Budapest's Olympic bid have been spent. Speaking at a press conference, LMP deputy István Ikotity noted that over 266,000 supporters have signed up to hold a referendum on the Olympic plans, and stated that now the government is pretending as if it had nothing to do with the bid submitted under a government decision and without consulting residents. Ikotity said that the 10 billion forints (EUR 32.4 million) allocated to cover the costs of making the bid had been fully disbursed by the end of last year. He accused the government of using a large sum of the money fraudulently to finance its communications machinery.