Civics: Perhaps it should be introduced in Hungarian schools

Fidesz politicians love to play with, and exploit, political concepts. I have the feeling that Viktor Orbán and his friends know full well that by and large the Hungarian public is not on sure footing when it comes to the details of a democratic political system. Not long ago, they talked about an alleged "social contract" between the government and the people. According to them this "social contract" was broken when the government introduced the austerity program. Anyone who is the slightest bit familiar with the work of Thomas Hobbes or Jean-Jacques Rousseau knows full well that their theories of social contract had nothing whatsoever to do with campaign promises and austerity programs. In Hungary no one broke anything because there was no "social contract" in the first place. But I guess it sounds good.

Moreover, once SZDSZ left the coalition there was another opportunity for political mischief. What do we hear from Viktor Orbán? According to him, now that the MSZP formed a government alone, Hungary returned to the one-party system! Sounds good, doesn’t it? Perhaps some naive souls will even believe that nonsense. In this case countless democratic governments all over the world have been nothing else but Soviet-style one-party systems. From England to France or Germany. I wonder how long this absurdity will be repeated.

The other new political twist concerns the word "minority." According to Orbán and others in Fidesz a minority government is by definition illegitimate. They don’t have the majority of the parliamentary members behind it. Both Fidesz and MDF tried to force Ferenc Gyurcsány to ask for a vote of confidence, reasoning that if the majority didn’t vote for him new elections would have to be held. But a parliamentary system doesn’t work that way, and the Hungarian variety is such that it gives great support to the government in power. It is almost impossible to dislodge the current government. The majority can make its life difficult, it can paralyze it, but to vote it out of office is very, very difficult.

Years ago I participated in an internet forum that had a member who was a great admirer of the American system. He kept telling us that in the U.S. Congress the representatives and senators truly represent their districts and vote accordingly. (Well, that’s a bit naive, but members of Congress do vote in such a way as to get re-elected. For instance, if you’re from a farm state, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat you will vote for any bill that continues or expands farm subsidies; you’ll vote against one that tries to cut them back.) He simply couldn’t grasp the difference between the parliamentary and the presidential systems. He felt that party discipline was somehow immoral. First of all, party discipline does exist in the U.S., especially within the Republican party. But since the American system has three ostensibly separate branches of government, and since it is commonplace for the majority in Congress to be of a different party from the president, the fate of the president and his cabinet doesn’t depend on how the Republicans or the Democrats in Congress vote. With a minority government in the parliamentary system the situation will be somewhat similar to the American congressional practice. In order to pass a bill compromise will undoubtedly be necessary. Party discipline will be doubly important, everybody will have to be there, no more playing hooky, plus they will have to get six or eight extra votes. With the exception of the voting on the budget, it will not be the end of the world if this or that bill doesn’t pass. The government can pick and choose the points on which it is willing to compromise.

The first day of the minority government went off quite well. The House voted on the acceptance of the new ministers, and the government had a comfortable majority. The members of SZDSZ supported the government. As János Kóka said: "This will work!" Yes, it most likely will, but why is János Kóka so happy about it?

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

We do not always agree, but on your initial points in this post I could not agree more. In Hungary, there is a completely undeveloped understaning of democracy, how democratic systems operate, the role of the legislator in a representative democracy, and so many other fundamental things.
I used to believe that Orban and FIDESZ were just being cynical about how they manipulated these terms and deliberately misconstrued how democratic institutions operate. I am not sure anymore. When one really listens to people like Orban or Kover or Mikola, I strikes me that they neither understand how representative democracies operate nor have any desire to understand them.
Sadly, we have seen this in other parts of the region also where the nationalist, Christian righ wing fundamentally misconstrue not only how representative democracy works but also what is should mean to be conservative. Just look at the difference between the PIS and the Civic Platform in Poland.