Almost all Hungarians who voted in yesterday's referendum rejected the European Union's migrant quotas but turnout was too low to make the poll valid, frustrating Prime Minister Viktor Orban's hopes of a clear victory with which to challenge Brussels.
Hungary's maverick right-wing leader, whose hardline policy on migration has been criticised by human rights groups but is popular at home, nevertheless said EU policymakers should heed the "outstanding" referendum outcome.
Orban said more Hungarians had rejected the migrant quotas than had voted for European Union membership in a referendum ahead of Hungary's 2004 accession to the bloc. Some 3.249 million votes were cast rejecting the quotas, compared with 2003's 3.056 million votes in favour of joining the EU.
"Thirteen years after a large majority of Hungarians voted at a referendum to join the European Union, today Hungarians made their voices heard again in a European issue," Orban said.
"We have achieved an outstanding result, because we have surpassed the outcome of the accession referendum," he told a news conference.
The National Election Office said on its website that 98.3 per cent of those who voted had rejected the quotas with 99.97 per cent of votes counted. Just 40 per cent of around 8.26 million eligible people had cast a valid vote, however, less than the 50 per cent needed to legitimise the result. Final results are expected next week.
Along with other ex-Communist countries in Eastern Europe, Hungary opposes a policy that would require all EU countries to take in some of the hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum in the bloc after arriving last year.
Orban, who responded to the influx by sealing Hungary's southern borders with a razor-wire fence and thousands of army and police, says deciding whether to accept migrants is a matter of national sovereignty. He says Hungary – with its Christian roots – does not want to take in Muslims in large numbers as they pose a security risk.
Earlier today, the Jobbik party called for Orban to resign because the referendum was rendered invalid by its low turnout.
"You need to resign, like David Cameron did, as is the norm in European politics," Jobbik Chairman Gabor Vona said. "I know you will not resign, but the least you could offer is an apology."