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    Hungary's Prime Minister Just Wants People To Keep Talking About Migration

    Viktor Orban suffered a setback on Sunday when a referendum on immigration failed to attract enough votes to be valid, but as long as the issue remains top of the agenda the results show he is on strong footing at home.

    On Sunday, people in Hungary voted in a referendum about accepting migrants and refugees under mandatory EU-wide quotas.

    Prime minister Viktor Orban’s government spent some €50 million on the vote, faced little opposition, and plastered the country with anti-migration billboards, often linking refugees to terrorists.

    But in a surprise result, the vote failed to reach the threshold it needed to be considered valid.

    Official results put the final tally of valid votes 10 points short of the needed quorum at just above 40%, with 3.3 million valid votes cast among the country's 8.3 million eligible voters.

    The result is, at one level, an embarrassing setback for Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. The Italian foreign minister tweeted that the referendum's failure to clear the bar was welcome news – a view that is likely to be shared in other European capitals.

    The European Commission's spokesperson said the EU respected the democratic will of the Hungarian people, adding, in an apparent dig at Orban, "of both those who voted, and those who did not".

    However, the referendum is unlikely to dent the prime minister’s domestic strength nor temper his outspoken opposition to the EU’s refugee policies.

    Among those who did cast a ballot, an overwhelming majority (98.3%) voted against EU settlement plans – more than those that supported EU membership in 2013, Orban pointed out during a press conference after the vote (at which the Hungarian prime minister did not take questions).

    Orban called the result "outstanding" and told reporters “the question was ‘Brussels or Budapest’ and we decided this issue is exclusively the competence of Budapest".

    He said Hungarians should be proud that they were "the first and so far only member state of the EU" to hold such a referendum, and said he would seek to amend the country's constitution in order to reflect the result.

    Nearly 4% of the ballots were spoiled, twice as many as in any of the other four referendums held since 1997, according to the Washington Post.

    Another invalid ballot at #Hungary's #QuotaReferendum, carrying a powerful message against Orbán's hate campaign. M… https://t.co/Tn9Kf4YJpM

    How voters spoiled ballots in Hungary referendum aimed at rejecting EU #migrants quota https://t.co/xxi2sBpJ99 via… https://t.co/GK3gyyaky0

    The referendum result is unlikely to substantially change matters, in Brussels or in Budapest, as the question was about decisions that are yet to be taken and the EU is unlikely to present mandatory quota schemes in future. The EU's current refugee programme, which is voluntary and is already being challenged in court by the Hungarian government, was not on the ballot.

    But as a domestic political play, Sunday’s result shows that at home, primarily on the back of Orban’s stance on migration, the ruling Fidesz party enjoys widespread support – and that is unlikely to change any time soon.

    But the referendum also shows Orban can rely on a large swathe of Fidesz and Jobbik voters and that he won't fall a… https://t.co/pAlSj1MM7A

    By counting on strong domestic support, Orban will continue to be vocal in Brussels as he angles to keep immigration – rather than other issues such as low wages – top of the domestic political agenda through to a general election due by 2018.

    In the wake of the UK's decision to leave the EU, Hungary and Poland pledged to wage a “cultural counterrevolution” to reform Europe post-Brexit. The two central European countries want to see powers transferred away from EU institutions, fiercely oppose multiculturalism, and are looking for a looser definition to the "rule of law" and "democracy" than that of most core EU nations.