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Transborder Hungarians and the Romanian referendum

August 1st, 2012

A right-wing columnist believes that Hungarians in Romania played a decisive role in Sunday’s failed referendum, which intended to remove President Basescu from office. A left-wing pundit, on the other hand, believes that the active involvement of the Hungarian government in the campaign will weaken the Hungarian minority in Romania.

Romanian President Traian Basescu survived the impeachment referendum to remove him from office due to low turnout. Although the vast majority of voters on Sunday cast their ballots against him, the turnout fell short of the 50 per cent threshold required for a successful referendum. In Transylvania, participation was way below the national average. RMDSZ (Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania), the main ethnic Hungarian party urged Hungarians to participate in the referendum and vote ‘according to their conscience’. Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, said that Hungarians should boycott the referendum and suggested that Hungarians could better cooperate with President Basescu, as ‘a patriot’, than with the governing left-wing alliance led by PM Victor Ponta. PM Ponta blamed the failure of the referendum partly on the Hungarian minority and criticized Viktor Orbán for interfering in Romanian internal affairs. RMDSZ chairman Hunor Kelemen in an interview with Népszava, pointed out that even if all ethnic Hungarians had voted against Basescu, the referendum would still have failed. Hungarians stayed away from the ballot box, he suggested, as a result of their general disinterest in the Basescu issue, rather than following PM Orbán’s call. The Fidesz-ally Transylvanian People’s Party (EMN) claimed that Hungarians turned against not only the PM Ponta led government, but also against the RMDSZ.

The unconstitutional and undemocratic attempt of the Romanian left-wing liberal alliance has utterly failed, István Pataky comments in Magyar Nemzet on Sunday’s referendum. The right-wing columnist believes that the sharp criticism of the new Romanian government by the EU helped Basescu to remain in office and save the rule of law, despite the severe welfare restrictions introduced by the former right-wing government.

As for the Hungarian minority’s behaviour goes, Pataky argues that ethnic Hungarians seemed to get the message of the right-wing democrats and helped to preserve the constitutional order by boycotting the referendum. The pro-government analyst suggests that by doing so, Hungarians in Romania also defied the RMDSZ, which implicitly backed PM Ponta’s left-wing alliance by urging Hungarians to vote.

In Népszabadság, Levente Szőcs contends that the unsuccessful referendum will only prolong the political standoff and deepen the Romanian crisis.  The left-wing columnist also notes that Basescu could retain his office only thanks to the obsolete voting register based on old population data. Turnout counted on the basis of the 2011 census, which has still not been authorized, would have been around 60 per cent, Szőcs notes. In other words he suggests that the majority of Romanians wanted to dismiss President Basescu.

Szőcs predicts that many of those unhappy with the result will make scapegoats of the Hungarians and PM Viktor Orbán for the failure of the referendum. He deems it highly unlikely that the Ponta government will be supportive of Hungarian endeavors, such as Szekler autonomy or creating a Hungarian language Medical University in Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș).

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