World Bulletin / News Desk
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Saturday made a final plea to voters to reject the EU's troubled refugee quota plan, a day ahead of a referendum, warning that migrants threatened "Europe's safe way of life".
While there is little doubt the 'No' camp will comfortably win, the vote could end in embarrassment for the firebrand leader if it fails to reach the required 50-percent turnout and is deemed invalid.
The right-wing government has led a huge media offensive urging the eight-million-strong electorate to reject the EU proposal, which seeks to share migrants around the 28-member bloc via mandatory quotas.
In an opinion piece published on Saturday, Orban said Hungarians had "a duty" to help his government fight the failed "liberal methods" of the "Brussels elite".
"Mass migration without control means a real threat. It endangers the peaceful and safe European way of life," he wrote in the Magyar Idok newspaper.
"With the referendum, we can send a message to each European... telling them that it depends on us, European citizens, to bring the EU back to reason, with common effort, or let it disintegrate."
The deal in question -- spearheaded by Germany and approved by most EU countries last year -- is aimed at easing pressure on Greece and Italy, the main entry points into the EU for hundreds of thousands of refugees mostly fleeing war in Syria.
But eastern and central European nations are vehemently opposed to the plan.
Hungary has not accepted a single person allocated under the scheme and instead joined Slovakia in filing a legal challenge against it.
Opposition parties and rights groups held a series of small protests in Budapest ahead of the vote.
"This referendum is an effort to mobilise fear and hatred," economist Tamas Bauer told AFP at a rally on Friday.
According to a poll published by the Publicus Institute on Saturday, only 46 percent of 1,000 participants said they would vote, down from 54 percent last month.
However, the government has already downplayed the consequences of low participation, with Orban insisting the turnout had "no political significance".
"If there are more 'No' than 'Yes' votes, that means that Hungarians do not accept the rule that the EU bureaucrats want to impose on us," he said Friday.
Orban has emerged as Europe's standard-bearer for swelling opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" policy as the bloc grapples with its worst migration since World War II.
More than 400,000 refugees, mainly fleeing war in Syria, trekked through Hungary toward northern Europe in 2015 before Hungary sealed off the southern borders with razor wire in the autumn and brought in anti-migrant laws, reducing the flow to a trickle.
While his hardline tactics have incensed Western leaders and EU decision-makers, they have paid off at home.
Orban's popularity is high and observers say the referendum provides a testing ground for the scheduled 2018 general election, in which immigration will be a key issue.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 01 Ekim 2016, 20:21