Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Hungarian Right looking like old Hungarian Left


"Do you think one party in the Hungarian parliament followed correct constitutional procedure in creating a new constitution this year?"

After blogging for months about the need for more thoughtful constitution-creation processes in the Middle East and North Africa region, I found myself engaged in conversation with two young Slovaks as we toured Vienna, Austria together.  The three of us had just finished participating in a conference on law and democracy at a Schloss, or castle, in the outskirts of the city.  A few from Hungary had also been in attendance, in particular a Hungarian Constitutional Court judge, who had been reinstituted on the Court upon the adoption of the new constitution in April of this year.  This judge had reviewed for me the procedural history of this latest constitutional revision and Hungary’s first post-Soviet “constitution,” and our previous conversation had sparked the current one.

Although not Hungarians themselves, the question parried by the students was obviously one of deep concern.  They shared that there was no discussion of adopting a new Constitution prior to elections of the current parliament.  The election of 2010 had provided the Fidesz-Magyar Polgari Szovetseg, or Fidesz Hungarian Civic Union party, with 53% of the vote and, due to disproportionate electoral law, 68% of the seats in parliament. The super-majority meant the party constituted enough constitutional voting power to create or amend the Constitution and "cardinal" laws.

This voting power they have exercised at will over the past year, changing, in the view of one author, "virtually every political institution in Hungary and making the guarantee of constitutional rights less secure," including 359 new laws.  Relying solely on their numerical power, and without reaching out to other parties nor providing the polity a chance to weigh in via referendum, Fidesz has given Hungary a new constitution, which went into effect January 1, 2012.

My conversation both with the judge and students has come back to haunt me over the last few weeks as I have read, with some horror, the continued over-reaching of Fidesz.  The judge I met was one of those loyal to Fidesz who was kept on the Constitutional Court while it was expanded to dilute non-loyal impact.  He had explained the constitutional change of last April as a legitimate measure by a constitutionally-required 2/3 majority to finally deliver on the former constitution's promise of being temporary.  He failed to mention that many of the constitutional changes would strip Hungarian judges of their independence: many, other than him, will be forced to retire to make room for more loyalist judges, and cases will be assigned judges by an autocratic system, likely dependent again on the loyalty of the judge.

Other power grabs (sorry, same link, but great article) include redistricting areas to ensure later electoral victories for Fidesz and criminalizing activities of opposing parties.  Finally, the European Commission is threatening to sue over the politicization of the national bank.