BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – The Hungarian government wants to hold a national referendum in an attempt to show public support for a new law which the European Union says discriminates against LGBT people.
The government says the law is meant to protect children, but many have criticized it as an attack on LGBT rights.
In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the referendum was needed to counter strong opposition to the EU measures, which he said had “abused his power” by launching a lawsuit against Hungary over the law.
“Brussels has clearly attacked Hungary in recent weeks because of its child protection law,” Orban said. “When the pressure against our homeland is so strong, only the common will of the people can defend Hungary.”
Orban has remained defiant on the matter, even though it has come under scrutiny at home and abroad due to a democratic setback and allegations of espionage.
The law passed last month by the Hungarian parliament bans the portrayal of homosexuality or gender reassignment by minors in school curricula and media content.
His stint sparked a heated confrontation between Orban’s right-wing government and the EU-27, which argued it discriminates against LGBT people and violates the bloc’s core values.
The referendum, Orban said, will have five questions. They will cover issues such as whether children should be introduced to sexual orientation topics in schools, and whether gender reassignment should be promoted or portrayed to children.
He will also ask if gender reassignment procedures should be made available to minors, he said, and urged Hungarians to vote ‘no’ on each of the questions.
The referendum announcement comes as Orban, a frequent critic of the EU, faces intense pressure on several fronts ahead of next spring’s elections which are expected to be the closest since coming to power in 2010.
His government is currently under fire over the findings of an international investigation released last weekend that it used powerful malware to spy on journalists, politicians and critical businessmen through their smartphones.
Opposition lawmakers have called for an investigation into alleged espionage by the parliamentary national security committee, but delegates from Orban’s Fidesz party said they would prevent the committee from meeting, calling the reports ” unfounded “.
Other senior officials have refused to confirm or deny that the government used spyware against Hungarian citizens.
A few minutes after the referendum was announced, several opposition parties called for a boycott of the vote.
Peter Jakab, chairman of the right-wing Jobbik party, called the referendum plan a “clear hijack” of the espionage allegations. The president of the centrist Momentum party, Andras Fekete-Gyor, said it was “a travesty of democracy and nothing more than free hate propaganda”.
On Tuesday, the EU Executive Board released a report on EU members’ adherence to the rule of law, in which it highlighted the erosion of democratic standards in Hungary, including anti- inadequate corruption and a deterioration of media pluralism.
The Commission has also chosen to suspend the disbursement of billions of euros (dollars) in EU economic stimulus funds to Hungary until it implements judicial reform and strengthens anti-corruption frameworks, according to the European justice commissioner Didier Reynders.
Orban has presented the measures as an attempt by the EU to force Hungary to amend its controversial law on the representation of homosexuality, although the rule of law report makes no mention of this legislation.