Referendum on Sunday shopping ban given green light by Hungary's top court

By bne IntelliNews April 6, 2016

The opposition Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) can start collecting signatures calling for a referendum on revocation of the law forcing shops to close on Sundays, the Curia, Hungary's supreme court, ruled on April 6.

The law, which restricts retailers with over 200 sqm of retail space from opening on Sunday was passed by the ruling Fidesz party in December 2014. It is one of two issues that provokes significant anger against the government, the other being problems with the centralized education system. Protests centred on the education system have hurt Fidesz support in recent months, although the party still maintains an overwhelming lead.

According to local pollster Ipsos, last December 68% of Hungarians oppose the Sunday shopping ban. Little wonder then that the government has reportedly tried to prevent a referendum.

The National Election Committee (NEC) has repeatedly rejected MSZP’s attempts to submit a referendum question. Former MSZP MP Istvan Nyako was blocked by several unnamed heavy-set men when he tried to submit the question in February. As he was involved in a tussle, another application on the Sunday shopping ban was submitted by the wife of a Fidesz mayor.

The NEC cannot accept two referendum questions on the same issue at the same time, meaning MSZP would be forced to wait for the NEC to rule on the legality of the alternative question. However, the supreme court has now ruled that Nyako was blocked from submitting his application illegally, and that it should therefore be accepted.

The Sunday shopping ban has been staunchly defended by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, stating that it protects the Sabbath as a Christian day of rest. Critics say that the bill is one of the government measures that aimed at hurting the country's large supermarket chains, which are mostly foreign-owned, to the advantage of smaller local chains, reputedly owned by figures close to Fidesz.

MSZP now needs to collect 200,000 signatures to hold a referendum. The party will also collect signatures in support of votes on ending the heavily-criticized privatization of state owned lands and the introduction of a wage ceiling of HUF2mn for employees of state-owned companies. 

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