Hungary's First Alternative Referendum - Nearly 115,000 People Gave Their Opinion on Education

Even if There Can Be No Referendum, the People Have an Opinion, and So the Vote Has Been Held!

Step by step, we will show how we came to the idea of an alternative referendum, and under what circumstances, in what incredible timeframes, and against what headwinds we organized this unique initiative for Hungarian democracy.

From a technological, organizational and communication point of view, the 7IGEN (7YES) campaign was a major challenge for us. We had to create a voting system that is relatively simple and secure, but also uses high-level authentication and can handle possible attacks. We also had a tight timeframe, as the energy around education had become increasingly difficult to translate into effective pressure after the events of recent years, so there was a sort of compulsion for us to move forward. We needed a step forward that would bring fresh energy to the struggle, restore the faith of education actors and supporters, demonstrate their strength and their numerousness, and lead to further effective action.

An alternative referendum - this is what we had to say quickly and forcefully to the Hungarian people, to our partners, to the representatives of education and students, to encourage nearly 1500 activists and to bring up the issue education in a powerful way in an exhausted Hungarian public sphere.

We have won! Not because of the numbers, the response or the tangible result, but because we clearly demonstrated the strength needed to force a referendum in a healthy system at any time. A force that those in power are clearly afraid of and are increasingly compelled to react to - and from now on we have the initiative.

Even the smallest support is vital for our predictable, secure operations, and to allow us to calibrate our plans. If you can, and if you like our work - and trust that you will continue to do so - please make a donation of any amount to help us achieve our common goals.


How We Got From One-Day Warning Strikes to the Idea of an Alternative Referendum

The biggest wave of education protests of the past decade began in early 2022, when a nationwide warning strike by scores of teachers drew attention to the deteriorating state of education. This was followed by continued protests, demonstrations and strikes. The government made it almost impossible for teachers to strike, and in the autumn of 2022 the first wave of retaliation came, with several teachers being sacked for voicing their opinions through civil disobedience. A series of live demonstrations swept the country, joined by thousands of parents and students.

With spring coming on, the government launched a second wave of retaliation, and the infamous Status Law was floated. The Ministry of Interior had drafted a bill that would further diminish the rights of teachers, students, parents, educators and other institutional communities. Overall, it will lead to a deterioration in their situation, both in terms of professional rules and rules for staff. After the draft Status Law was made public, teachers across the country protested, organizing numerous forums, while on aHang’s website nearly 5,000 education workers declared that they would leave the profession if the draft law was adopted.

The demonstrations continued, but the government still refused to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the people concerned.

On 3 May, the United Student Front, together with several other organizations, announced that they wanted a referendum, and formally submitted seven questions to the National Election Office. The seven questions highlight the seven most serious and pressing problems in education.

Predictably, the Electoral Commission took its time to decide on the questions submitted. By June, forums, live demonstrations, protests and demonstrations were being held in almost every part of the country to force the government to back down on the Status Law. Not a day went by without at least one article appearing on the subject in the press. On the day of the parliamentary debate on the bill, a demonstration was organized in Kossuth Square.

This was followed by a series of “stabbings in the back.” At the end of June, all seven questions were rejected by the National Electoral Committee, so the initiators appealed to the Curia, but that did not change the decision. The bill on a new career path for teachers was finally approved by parliament on 4 July. After that, we decided, together with the United Student Front, to take the initiative ourselves, and if the government is afraid to ask people's opinion on education, we would do it.


Announcing the Alternative Referendum and the Organizing Work

We officially announced on 25 August that we would organize Hungary's first alternative referendum between 23 and 30 October. Our aim was to get as many people as possible to have their say in the alternative referendum using a system which allowed us to conduct the vote in a certified way. We structured the alternative referendum campaign around seven questions, the seven key issues in education. The seven questions had the same focus as those that the United Student Front had formally submitted to the Election Office back in the spring.

Work started on several fronts at the end of the summer. Firstly, we had to develop a coordination process to ensure voting in as many parts of the country as possible, starting with a joint central campaign team set up by the two initiating organizations. We also enhanced our ELEVE and EVOL apps to support the process of online and in-person voting across the country in a simple and seamless way (these tools verify voter eligibility, ensure the principle of one person one vote, and also ensure the anonymity of votes). Thirdly, we needed to build up national campaign communications to make the initiative visible across the country.

First, we started by recruiting volunteers and coordinators to help with the in-person voting. More than 1,300 activists from all over the country signed up, including students, NGO members, retired people or even working people who had taken time off work for the week. Alongside them, we set up a network of county coordinators who liaised with the central campaign team and organized the voting at the local level.

At the beginning of September, we launched, the official website of the alternative referendum, where, in addition to the questions, the activist registration platform and the voter pre-registration option were available from the very beginning. In the meantime, we kept our membership and the press informed about the current organizing processes. It was also during this period that we decided to provide, for the first time in Hungary, the possibility to vote from the age of 16, as it was of utmost importance to us that students, one of the most affected groups, could have their say on the most important issues related to education.

We used the first six weeks of autumn to generate as much visibility as possible for the alternative referendum. aHang's national network appeared on the streets of several counties with campaign booths and leaflets to raise awareness of the October vote. In several rural towns and cities, our posters were displayed on street billboards, nearly 100 citylights were used to advertise voting locations, and 7IGEN was also the focus of attention at “Crosswalk Wednesdays” and at several rural roadshows. The two organizations also continued to promote the alternative referendum online. A number of mobilizing and explanatory videos were produced on the alternative referendum and its questions, and on how to vote; advertising campaigns were launched, and opinion leaders were engaged for our cause.

Although the main organizing and coordination was done by the United Student Front and aHang, the following organizations joined the initiative as supporters: Parents' Voice, Dialogue for Education, Civil Platform for Public Education, Civil Basis Society, Teachers' Unity, Uninvited Network, “Let’s Count Together!” Movement/ MENŐK Hungarian European Women's Forum Association, United Parents' Front, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Democratic Union of Hungarian Teachers (PDSZ), Padtársak Miskolc Civil Community, Independents SZIVE (Independents for the Town of Szinva), Teachers' Network, National Common Will, ADOM Student Movement, Amnesty International Hungary, and Civil College Foundation.


115 Thousand for Education Reform

On 19 October, just before the vote, we organized a slam poetry night together with Slam Poetry Hungary to promote the alternative referendum. The theme of the thematic competition was the referendum questions, and the issues and themes behind them. With dozens of performers and over a hundred spectators, the event was the first opportunity for people to cast their votes. This marked the launch of Hungary's first alternative referendum.

On 20 October, the online voting was launched, with the first round of more than 20,000 pre-registrants able to cast their votes in the virtual ballot boxes. The 7 questions could be voted on online in the ELEVE app and in the browser. All that was required was identification through the Client Gate (the national electronic identification system), which ensured the authentication of the vote.

On 23 October, in-person voting was also launched, with polling stations opening in over 100 locations across the country, where trained activists and volunteers helped to run the referendum. This time, a new feature was that in-person voting was done via smart devices - tablets and phones - using the EVOL voting software, which was also used in the primaries. In-person voting did not require Client Gate identification, with authentication provided by a valid photo ID and address card.

On the first day of in-person voting, on October 23rd, in Budapest a large-scale commemoration and educational demonstration was held by the Municipality of Budapest and several NGOs. The "Freedom! For You!" event started out from Heroes' Square, where several tents were set up to allow people to vote. That evening, hundreds of people cast their vote in person at the commemoration.

On the same day, the news of the alternative referendum was circulated in national and local media, and interest in the initiative grew.

Apart from a few difficulties, there were no disruptions during the 8 days of voting. More than 1,300 activists worked day and night to ensure that as many people as possible could vote, despite the bad weather. Volunteers not only ensured that people could vote in person, but also provided a space for dialogue on education, for clashing views and finding a common ground.

Many NGOs and parties helped to mobilize - MSZP, MKKP, Momentum, Párbeszéd, DK - and politicians encouraged everyone to participate. In addition, many artists, public figures and celebrities, including Zsófi Kemény, Nóra L. Ritók, Péter Juhász, Kriszta Bódis, Ádám Nagy and Márton Szabó from Jólvanezígy, Ervin Nagy and Soma Mamagésa, also spoke out in favor of the alternative referendum.

The diverse means, the broad mobilization and the activists reached their goal. On 30 October, the alternative referendum officially ended, with a total of 114,941 people having had their say on seven key education issues. Over eight days, nearly 115,000 people voted through a validated voting system and stood up for a more equitable, opportunity-based, properly funded, 21st-century education system.


Results & Data

114,941 people took part in Hungary's first alternative referendum. 45,466 voters (39.58% of all participants) voted offline in the tents set up, and 69,475 (60.42% of all participants) voted online (from iPhone, Android and Huawei devices, or browser-based hybrid voting).

In terms of age, 1.44% of voters were aged 16-18 (1,659 people), while 98.56% were aged 18 and over (113,282 people). 43.1% of the 45,466 votes cast in person came from Budapest and 56.9% from outside Budapest. Apart from Budapest, outstanding cities included Szeged with 2,561 votes, Miskolc with 2,216 votes, Pécs with 1,738 votes, and Veszprém with 1,450 votes.

Breakdown of votes by question (On the ballot paper, yes/no answers were used to express agreement on the questions. There was no obligation to answer each question, so a partially answered or blank ballot paper could also be submitted):

Question 1: Do you agree that the Hungarian government should develop a framework to ensure modern, opportunity-based education for all children?

  • Yes: 113 926
  • No: 568

Question 2: Do you agree that, after wide-ranging consultation, a regulation should be drafted in the interests of education workers and children, instead of the Status Law?

  • Yes: 114 216
  • No: 395

Question 3: Do you agree that the government should set up a responsible and autonomous Ministry of Education responsible for education as a whole?

  • Yes: 113 932
  • No: 732

Question 4: Do you agree that the Hungarian government should give teachers an immediate wage increase of minimum 50%?

  • Yes: 112 350
  • No: 2 053

Question 5: Do you agree that the right of teachers to real strike should be restored?

  • Yes: 113 963
  • No: 693

Question 6: Do you agree that nursery school and school communities should have a real say in the selection of the head teacher?

  • Yes: 114 113
  • No: 577

Question 7: Do you agree that the Minister of the Interior, Sándor Pintér, is not suitable for the post of Minister of Public Education?

  • Yes: 113 165
  • No: 1016

Communication With the Membership

aHang's membership, i.e. subscribers, followers and supporters, followed the campaign with great interest and actively contributed to the success of the referendum.

During the voting period alone, we sent more than 3 million individual emails to our subscribers, mainly to encourage them to vote or to ask them to talk to their friends about the importance of the alternative referendum and participating in it.

We would like to thank everyone who helped us to achieve this overwhelming result by casting their vote, sacrificing a few volunteer hours, or providing material or financial support.

What have we spent the donations on?

aHang (Magyarhang Nonprofit Ltd.) has raised a total of 34,996,095 HUF from micro and medium donations for the first Hungarian alternative referendum in 2023. As of 13 November, campaign spending stood at 32,777,577 HUF, but several payments are still pending and the validity of the services ordered has not fully expired either.

The approximate value of the added work and costs (staff, coordinators, training, subscriptions, devices, services, innovation and development, technology, etc.) covered by aHang's own reserves and operational resources amounts to 24,500,000 HUF.

Breakdown by purpose of the use of the donation of 32.777.577 HUF received for the campaign:

Purchase of equipment (tablets, phones, tents, desks, chargers, etc.):
Printing materials (leaflets, posters, banners, badges, stickers, etc.):
Advertising, online and telecommunication services (online advertising, SIM cards and GSM/internet subscriptions, online voting platform, SMS service, etc.):
Events (actions, meetings, supplies, travel, meals, etc.):
Staff costs (staff contracts over and above aHang's general operating costs):
Press communication

Since 25 August, when the alternative referendum was announced, we have had a total of 366 media appearances on the subject up to 7 November. We were delighted to see that the campaign was regularly covered by the independent rural press in addition to the national news portals. In total, 96 press outlets wrote directly or indirectly about the 7IGEN alternative referendum. During the above-mentioned period, 18 press releases were issued, resulting in a total of 203 press appearances. The alternative referendum was covered not only by online news portals but also by television, radio and print newspapers. In addition to the national press, we were also covered by foreign media and Hungarian-language media in the neighboring countries.

What Next?

What Does the Vote of Nearly 115,000 People Mean? What Next?

There was an overwhelming 'yes' vote given on all seven questions, demonstrating the need for immediate and comprehensive reforms in education on these seven issues. This, while being an overwhelming success, gives us a very important task, because we were sure of one thing from the moment the vote closed: we cannot stop.

On 31 October, the day after the vote ended, we held a press conference to discuss the way forward and the next steps with the United Student Front. It was here that we announced our action on 17 November: on International Students' Day, we delivered the results of the 7IGEN alternative referendum to local school districts in many parts of the country and urged the authorities to respond. In many cases, we were told during the personal deliveries that the heads of the school district centers were not decision-makers and therefore had nothing to do with the opinions of nearly 115,000 people on education issues. Not everywhere were they willing to receive the results; in Szeged, for example, even though it was office hours, they did not want to receive the activists, and even the receptionist refused to take the documents.

In Budapest, the delivery took place at the Inner-Pest School District Centre, which dismissed several teachers last autumn. That is, it would have taken place if the members of the United Student Front had been allowed in, but they were not. After the activists were unable to get through either door, they read out a letter addressed to the school district's principal outside the entrance.

We will not give up, we will use every available opportunity to get the results of the alternative referendum to the institutions and decision-makers who are supposed to deal with them!

But the work does not end here. Our voting process had barely finished when the government announced that it is preparing another national consultation. Because we want to consult only and exclusively on education, on our future, the second round of the 7IGEN alternative educational referendum is about collecting 1 million blank national consultation forms. 1 blank national consultation sheet = 1 vote for students, teachers and the 7IGEN alternative referendum. All relevant information on the collection of 1 million blank national consultation sheets can be found on