There are many who dread the prospect of Viktor Orbán's return to power. And, I'm afraid, not without reason. Although it seems that the majority of people don't quite remember the days when Viktor Orbán was prime minister, others have a better memory. They recall that even then Orbán was not exactly a faithful guardian of democracy. In fact, he and his government considered parliament a burden that constrained their activities. They did everything in their power to limit its competence. They couldn't change the constitution because according to the Hungarian system any constitutional change must be passed by a two-thirds majority. Thus, Fidesz had to be satisfied with changes made, for example, in the house rules governing the the functioning of parliament. One house rule demands that parliament while in session convenes "every week." The government parties by a simple majority vote changed that to "every three weeks." The opposition turned to the Constitutional Court which as usual dragged its feet, but three or four years later when Orbán was long gone the Court ruled that the change was indeed unconstitutional. One of the first decisions of the Medgyessy government, by the way, was to honor the letter and the spirit of the law and to restore the custom of meeting every week that parliament is in session.
In a decent parliamentary system the prime minister usually attends at least one parliamentary session a week. Ferenc Gyurcsány, for example, practically every Monday gave a speech and answered questions. Gordon Bajnai has followed that practice. Orbán hardly showed up in parliament as prime minister and, after he lost the elections, for three and a half years the leader of the opposition didn't show up at all! Not once. And after 2006 Fidesz members walked out every time the prime minister spoke. What kind of a parliamentary party are we talking about whose leader thinks so little of the most important institution of democracy, the parliament?
But one can go further. In a democracy the government prepares a yearly budget. As we know, the vote on the budget is an important moment in the life of any government. If the governing party's support has eroded over the course of the year and there are not enough votes to pass the budget, the government falls. Orbán in 2000 prepared and managed to pass with the help of his coalition partner the Smallholders not the requisite yearly budget but a two-year one. And as soon as the budget passed, he got rid of Torgyán and and his party.
Another important instrument of parliamentary politics is setting up investigative committees. It is customary to accede to the wishes of the opposition when it requests an investigation. In the Orbán years not one such committee was convened. Since then every Fidesz request for such a committee has been honored. Another interesting development in Orbán's parliament was the expropriation of the system of interpellations. Interpellations are normally used by the opposition. At the beginning of each session a certain amount of time is set aside for members of parliament to ask questions of the ministers. In order to save themselves a lot of trouble Fidesz came up with the brilliant idea of simply encouraging their own members to ask benign questions from their own ministers who then gave glowing reports about their wonderful accomplishments. It was a mockery of parliamentary democracy.
While in opposition Orbán's anti-democratic tendencies have only grown. First of all a cult of personality has developed around him. He shows up only in front of adoring audiences where the devoted crowd similar to the Rákosi days rises when the chief enters and rhythmically claps while shouting: Viktor! Viktor! Viktor! Every time I see that I shudder because I remember my school days when we had to do the same except we had to repeat: Long live Stalin! Long live Rákosi! Long live the Red Army! No thanks! And who can forget the picture of an old lady kissing the young Viktor Orbán's hand? He is completely unaccustomed to having someone say "no" to him. Or even to listening to contrary opinions. He organized the party on Bolshevik models. Party democracy doesn't exist. Every position must be approved by him. People he takes a fancy to can occupy important positions in the party with no apparent qualifications. At the same time he can drop people willy-nilly whenever he wants. I think one reason that Orbán did so poorly in his debate with Gyurcsány before the 2006 elections is that he only gives speeches where he cannot be interrupted or questioned.
Here I collected a few Orbán quotations that might give a fair idea of what Orbán thinks of parliamentary democracy. Let's start with 2002 after he lost the elections. "Although our parties and our representatives are in opposition in parliament, we, who are here on this square cannot be and will not be in opposition because the nation cannot be in opposition. Only a government can be in opposition against its own people." Or in 2005: "There are people who put the emphasis on parliament but I put it on democracy." Or a couple of years later: "Today we must restore public confidence not with movements within parliament but at last with giving people the experience that the people themselves can decide the most important questions of the day. Democracy is more than sending representatives every four years to parliament. I will never be satisfied with that." Or a few days later (May 2007): "Parliamentary democracy robbed us of the possibility of taking the fate of the country into our own hands. We will see who is the boss, the galley or the current of the river." Another quotation also from 2007: "The political direction that determines the life of the nation must be formed by the will of the people … despite every Hungarian election won as a result of lies and fraud. If the constitutional order cannot serve democracy–and under the present circumstances in Hungary it cannot–then one must create those constitutional institutions and guarantees with which Hungarian democracy can defend itself. Only once must we win but then very big." In case someone has difficulty understanding the meaning of this last sentence Orbán here is talking about a situation in which Fidesz has such a large majority that it can effect those constitutional changes that could allow it to remain in power for a very long time. Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that he envisaged lately a "one-colored parliament." Here he is referring to the picture showing the seating arrangement in the chamber. This picture shows the results of the elections of 2006. As Orbán's critics rightly pointed out, Hungary did experience days when the parliament was all red but those were not the best days in the life of the nation.
Fidesz under the guidance of Orbán simply doesn't understand that politics in a democracy means politics of compromise. Zoltán Pokorny, one of the vice-chairmen of the party, apparently said to one of his MSZP colleagues after his party lost the elections in 2002: "You will always feel our chilly breath on your necks!" And indeed. No question about it. Another way people describe Fidesz strategy is as a "full court press." While other opposition parties can agree on a "national minimum," that is simply impossible as long as Fidesz is under the leadership of Viktor Orbán.
A lot of people are afraid that Fidesz will gain such an overwhelming victory next year that they can change the constitution. From there on Hungarian democracy might not be exactly the kind we are accustomed to in Western Europe. Some people worry that Orbán is planning to restore the Horthy regime, but József Debreczeni who has been a consistent critic of Orbán begs to differ. No, he says, it will be much worse. Orbán is not a second Horthy but a second Gyula Gömbös. Gömbös was the leader of the Hungarian far right during the 1920s who became prime minister in 1932. I don't think that Debreczeni is exaggerating. Reading Gömbös's program (Nemzeti Munkaterv/National Work Program) I also found a lot of similarities between the ideas of the two men. I even wondered whether perhaps Orbán decided to refresh his high school history and took the time to read one of those books on Gömbös that came out recently. For example, Jenő Gergely's Gömbös Gyula: Politikai pályakép, Budapest, 2001. The similarities are striking. And Gömbös's ideal wasn't exactly parliamentary democracy. It was Hungary's good fortune that he died suddenly in 1936.