BUDAPEST • Almost all Hungarians who voted in a referendum have rejected the European Union's migrant quotas, but turnout was too low to make the results valid, frustrating Prime Minister Viktor Orban's hopes of a clear win with which to challenge Brussels.
Hungary's maverick right-wing leader, whose hardline policy on migration has been criticised by human rights groups but is popular at home, nevertheless said EU policymakers should heed Sunday's "outstanding" referendum outcome.
"Thirteen years after a large majority of Hungarians voted at a referendum to join the European Union, today Hungarians made their voices heard again in a European issue," Mr Orban said.
"We have achieved an outstanding result, because we have surpassed the outcome of the accession referendum," he told a news conference.
Some 3.249 million votes were cast against the quotas, against 2003's 3.056 million votes in favour of joining the EU.
Despite the invalid result, Mr Orban said he would amend the Constitution within days to ensure the EU cannot settle migrants in Hungary.
The National Election Office said on its website that 98.3 per cent of those who voted rejected the quotas, with 99.97 per cent of votes counted. Just 40 per cent of around 8.26 million eligible people had cast a valid vote, however, less than the 50 per cent needed to legitimise the results. Final results are expected next week.
Along with other former Communist countries in Eastern Europe, Hungary opposes a policy that would require all EU countries to take in some of the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers who arrived in the bloc last year.
Mr Orban, who responded to the influx by sealing Hungary's southern borders with a razor-wire fence and thousands of army and police officers, said deciding whether to accept migrants is a matter of national sovereignty. He says that Hungary - with its Christian roots - does not want to take in Muslims in large numbers as they pose a security risk.
Some opposition parties seized on the fact that turnout was short of the threshold needed to validate the vote, with the radical nationalist Jobbik calling the vote "a fiasco" and urging Mr Orban to quit. The opposition leftist DK party also said Mr Orban should step down.
Analysts also said the invalid vote could blunt Mr Orban's efforts to force Brussels to change its migration policies.
But in a sign that regional leaders were emboldened by developments in Hungary, Serbian President Tomislav Nikoli said his country should be prepared to further tighten border security even at the risk of angering the EU which it is seeking to join.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the EU of delaying the delivery of €3 billion (S$4.6 billion) promised under a landmark deal to stem the flow of migrants to Europe, saying that only €179 million had been received so far.
"The year is coming to its end," Mr Erdogan said in televised comments in the capital Ankara. "They make promises, but they do not keep them," he added.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE