László Sólyom refuses to budge

President Sólyom is obviously a man of principle. Or less charitably, he is an obstinate man unfit for the position he fills at the moment. He simply refuses to follow his predecessors’ practice and consult with the parties about the people whom he nominates and whose appointments are then sanctioned by a two-thirds vote in parliament. He thinks that he is infallible: he knows who is "qualified" and nothing else matters. For example, the political leaning of the nominee. But in politics things don’t work that way. It matters very much, for example, what kind of judicial philosophy is held by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Justice is supposed to be blind, but we know only too well that that is not the case. Sólyom as a legal scholar and former chief justice of the Constitutional Court feels himself to be the only true judge of "quality" and impartiality. However, most of his nominees are people whose political views are very close to his own. He nominated people whom he had encountered earlier either in the early days of MDF (Magyar Demokrata Fórum) or who had been his close associates before. This is how he came up with the name of András Baka, who until recently was a member of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. András Baka spent 17 years (1991-2008) in the ECHR but has no judicial experience in Hungary. He was named a judge in Hungary only a month ago and he never passed an examination, which apparently all Hungarian judges have to take.

The first sign of trouble was SZDSZ’s announcement on May 5 that they would reject András Baka’s nomination. A day later a Fidesz spokesman cautiously stated that they were waiting for the result of the vote by members of the National Jurisdictional Committee (Országos Igazságszolgálatási Tanács). This is a body of 14 members headed by the current chief justice of the Supreme Court; among its members there are nine judges, the chief prosecutor, the minister of justice, and two members of Parliament’s judiciary committee. MSZP’s spokesman announced that the party would need at least two more weeks to form an opinion. A day later, on May 7, the sad news (at least for Baka and Sólyom) reached the public that the majority of the fourteen-member National Jurisdictional Committe rejected András Baka. Among the negatives was that he was briefly a member of parliament, presumably indicating a political bias. Also Baka has no experience running a large organization (though I can’t understand why in any decent legal system the chief justice of a court should also be the bureaucratic manager of the legal profession). One has to assume that these were sugar-coated reasons for rejecting a man whom they didn’t consider qualified for the job.

However, this deterred neither Sólyom nor Baka. The nomination will proceed. After all, said Baka, the vote was close in the committee. Yes, but what about parliament? I’ll bet it won’t be close there. Undaunted, Baka now rather shamelessly goes from TV station to TV station and whines that he was not given a fair chance at the hearing. The whole thing was Kafkaesque, he said. He is especially outraged at the label that he is "professionally not qualified." Meanwhile more information is reaching the public about Baka’s judicial philosophy. In today’s Népszabadság there is an article that outlines some of Baka’s opinions. It seems that Mr. Baka was in the wrong court. That is, he was rarely on the side of human rights of ordinary citizens. Instead he usually ended up supporting the authorities against the individuals who felt that their rights were trampled on.

And if Sólyom were looking for more punishment, it’s not enough that Baka’s troubled nomination will go forth, but two of the already failed ombudsmen’s cases will resurface in parliament. After all, Mr. Sólyom thinks that they are the most qualified nominees. The new, old nominees are Attila Péterfalvi for ombudsman of privacy issues (a funny-looking bird with some very odd ideas about the world) and Sándor Fülöp, the candidate for a new ombudsman post designed to protect future generations. This absurd title at least encompasses environmental issues.

Let’s review László Sólyom’s failures. In the summer of 2006 he nominated Miklós Horányi to be chief prosecutor. He was voted down. A year later he nominated László Majtényi (a reappointment) for ombudsman who was voted down (mostly because of Fidesz’s opposition). In December 2007 he nominated Boldizsár Nagy as ombudsman of future generations and Attila Péterfalvi as ombdusman for privacy. Both were rejected. In February 2008 he came up with a new man for the post of ombudsman of future generations, Sándor Fülöp, and tried another ombudsman for privacy issues, Ferenc Zombor. Both failed in parliament. So in April 2008 he nominated a new ombudsman of future generations, Ágnes Mészáros  (Mrs. Bogdányi), and Gábot Attila Tóth as ombudsman of privacy issues. Both failed.

This is where we stand. The whole thing is becoming ludicrous, and Mr. Sólyom looks more and more as if he is unfit for his job.