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Will Hungary's Migrant Referendum Swing Europe Further Right?

  • Heather Murdock

As in many parts of Hungary, factories in this town have been shuttered for decades. Locals say those who have jobs are paid poorly.

When asked, many of the people here say they will vote "no" in Sunday's controversial referendum because they don't want migrants moving in, competing for jobs and raising security concerns.

"I will definitely vote, because we are worrying about our jobs, our living standard, our families and our daughters," said Sidos Zsolt, a 56-year-old construction worker who lives on the ground floor of a Soviet-era apartment building.

Analysts say that as long as enough people vote in Sunday's referendum on European Union-mandated migrant quotas, the measure will likely pass, rejecting the EU position. Analysts say that if the measure passes with a "no" vote, it could encourage European political parties who favor hardening policies against refugees.

WATCH: Heather Murdock reporting from Kiskunhalas

Officials in Budapest say the EU does not have the right to dictate national migrant policy. If Hungarians turn out to vote "no" on migration quotas, it will send a clear message to Brussels, they say.

"We don't need migrants in this country," government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said. "What you see in Europe is that there is a difference on a very fundamental level about it if it's a good thing."

IN PICTURES: Voting in Hungary

Government campaign

The government has hung billboards and aired commercials across the country, urging people not to "take the risk."

The opposition is small but increasingly loud as the vote nears.

Activists with the Two-Tailed Dog Party say the ballot is a power play and that the government is using fear of refugees to gain power.

"The main goal of this campaign is to take the attention from its critical performance," explained Csaba Dudas, a Two-Tailed Dog Party organizer. "Because before starting this fear campaign from the migrants, the popularity — the support — of the government was falling down."

In response to the government campaign, Dudas' party has hung signs and billboards across the country, mocking the referendum and urging people to cast invalid votes.

Opposition posters mock the government, saying it is not recognizing human rights in calling for the referendum against refugees, Sept. 30, 2016. (R. Karancsi/VOA / Képszerkesztőség)

Opposition posters mock the government, saying it is not recognizing human rights in calling for the referendum against refugees, Sept. 30, 2016. (R. Karancsi/VOA / Képszerkesztőség)

Right-wing politicians

Analysts say if 50 percent of the voters turn out, the ballot measure is likely to pass, empowering increasingly popular right-wing politicians in Europe, because Fidesz is Hungary's ruling party, not a fringe group.

"Mainstream parties like Fidesz are taking the agenda of the radical-right parties," said Goran Buldioski, the co-director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe. "I find it really worrying, because then we really have much bigger and broader support for radical policies in the society."

At a pro-refugee rally Friday night, some locals said whether passing the ballot measure is practical or radical, the effect of it is largely up to the migrants themselves.

Hungary has almost no refugees, and mandated migrant quotas would most likely never be enforced because refugees perceive Hungary as unwelcoming and rarely seek to settle in the country, the locals added.

"I hate that they are raising hatred," said Lajos, a Hungarian information officer attending the rally. "It's a joke. A really bad joke."

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