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MPs thwart Orban's attempt to halt EU refugee quotas in Hungary

MPs have voted to block Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's attempt to amend the constitution to bar the intake of refugees. This after right-wing Jobbik refused to support the bill - for not being tough enough.

The proposed constitutional amendment received 131 votes in the 199-seat parliament - a majority of 65.8 percent, a fraction shy of the two-thirds majority needed. Opposition parties boycotted the vote.

Orban's ruling right-wing Fidesz party had wanted to change the constitution to legalize its policy of refusing to accept EU quotas for taking in refugees.

The EU refugee quota proposal - advocated by Germany and agreed on by most EU countries in 2016 - aims to stem the flow of migrants into Italy and Greece and spread the burden of resettlement across EU members. Countries in Eastern and Central Europe have strongly opposed the plan, which aims to relocate 160,000 people, many of them fleeing war in Syria. Hungary has so far not yet accepted any of the 1,294 asylum-seekers allocated to it under the scheme.

Hungary has responded to the influx of refugees traveling along the so-called 'Balkan route' by erecting barbed-wire fences and deploying thousands of troops and police officers to secure the border, drawing harsh criticism from other EU countries.

Orban said in late October that Hungary is ready to sue the European Commission over mandatory refugee resettlement quotas. If Brussels does not take the issue off the table, Budapest will resist with "a big battle" and "a serious legal debate," he said.

Neighboring Austria has threatened Hungary withlegal consequences if it refuses to take in refugees under the Dublin agreement, the key legal document regulating the handling of asylum-seekers.

Hungarian policemen along the temporary border fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border near Roszke, 180 kms southeast of Budapest

Hungarian policemen along the temporary border fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border near Roszke, 180 kms southeast of Budapest

Jobbik nudging Orban further right

Jobbik is vying with the Socialists as the second most popular party in the country. Its leader, Gabor Vona, had agreed to vote for the bill on condition the government scrap a controversial cash-for-residency bond scheme - so-called 'residency bonds' sold via offshore companies - mainly designed for wealthy Russians, Chinese and people from the Middle East to avoid the planned changes.

"Neither poor nor rich migrants should be allowed to settle in Hungary," Vona said.

Since winning a majority in 2010 and reelection in 2014 Orban has espoused what he himself calls a form of illiberalism, undermining the role of critical media, toying with caps on judicial independence and talking tough on the issue of refugee quotas. But Orban's attempts to shake off the rise of Jobbik ahead of the next scheduled general election in 2018 by borrowing many of its often overtly racist sloganeering seem to be having the opposite effect, namely fueling Jobbik's further rise.

Orban later told parliament the government "would not give in to blackmail" and urged Jobbik not to connect the bond scheme with the change to the constitution.

The parliamentary ballot follows a referendum on October 2 in which 3.3 million voters backed Orban's rejection of the EU's refugee quota plan. The ballot was deemed invalid due to low turnout in the nation of nearly 10 million people, notwithstanding Orban's claim that the outcome was "a sweeping victory" over "Brussels bureaucrats." He then vowed to change the constitution to "reflect the will of the people."

jbh/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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