This is András Gerő's latest idea. On October 18 he wrote an opinion piece entitled "Mozgássérült alaptörvény" (Constitution with disability) in Népszabadság in which he detailed some of his ideas concerning the shortcomings of the Hungarian Constitution. Perhaps not everybody knows that the current constitution is a thorough reworking of the Stalinist constitution of 1949 which, according to some, is so totally changed that the only sentence that remained from the original is "Budapest is the capital of the Hungary." This is a bit of an exaggeration because there are some "socialist" remnants in the constitution that surely don't belong to the basic law of a modern democratic country. But this is not what Gerő is complaining about.
Gerő thinks that Hungary's political ills stem from the shortcomings of the constitution. What are they? According to him there are several areas that should be changed. First, he mentions the question of "freedom of speech" followed by "lack of authority," "franchise," and "taxation." The problem of freedom of speech in Gerő's opinion can be cured by expanding legal remedies to cover not only individuals' rights but also the rights of groups. Gerő here uses the expression "collective stigmatization." In plain language legal remedies should be available to groups–Jews, Gypsies, gays–against those who use either racist or in Gerő's words "cultural racist" language. There is nothing revolutionary in this suggestion since hundreds if not thousands, including the Hungarian parliament, suggested this constitutional change only to be rebuffed by the majority of the Constitutional Court. Gerő's only unique contribution here is that perhaps the jury system could be introduced in such cases. Only a historian dealing with the late nineteenth century would come up with this suggestion because few people are aware of the fact that for a while the Hungarian judiciary provided for the use of juries in certain cases. Gerő thinks that introducing a jury here would ensure the representation of "public opinion" in the courtroom.
Although Gerő also talks at some length about the lack of constitutional guarantees as far as appointments for high public offices are concerned, I will quickly move on to the next and most controversial suggestion he offers. According to the constitution the president of the republic is supposed to express the unity of the nation, but, says Gerő, in fact the president in the last ten years or so has been elected by a simple majority vote. Again, according to the constitution, the ideal situation would be an election by a two-thirds majority. But if no two-thirds majority can be achieved in two tries, the third time around a simple majority will do. As a result the president will most likely be the candidate of one party or the other "no matter what the constitution says." Therefore, Gerő thinks that it "might be time to rethink the form of the government." If a monarchy were introduced, the head of the state would not depend on political whim and therefore could truly represent the unity of the nation. His legitimacy wouldn't depend on changes in the country's political life. The monarch's role would be only symbolic, so he or she would in no way get involved in everyday politics. One thing is sure, says Gerő. The "institution of the presidency didn't fulfill the constitutional expectations" of the legislators.
Gerő has a few more things to say that surely are not going to be welcomed by liberal jurists. He realizes that universal suffrage is a fact of life and he doesn't want to limit it in any way. But he suggests putting in a "filter" that would make sure that only committed people will actually vote. Those who take the trouble of "registering." The idea of course comes from the United States. Although he doesn't elaborate, I doubt that he means registration by party affiliation as is the case in the United States. I suspect he thinks simply in terms of a person's going to an office and registering his or her intention to vote.
And finally, Gerő reminds his readers that the constitution (paragraph 70/1) in no uncertain terms emphasizes the compulsory nature of taxation. Yet thousands and thousands of people refuse to pay taxes without serious consequences. Gerő has a radical suggestion, again based on Hungarian nineteenth and early twentieth-century practice: those who owe taxes should be deprived of their right to vote. After all, says Gerő, if the law can forbid those found guilty in a criminal court of law from exercising their rights as citizens why shouldn't that be extended to those who commit tax fraud?
The reaction was immediate. Zoltán Fleck pronounced Gerő ignorant and made fun of him by calling his solution (Népszabadság, October 30) "Magyar Csárdáskirályság," a takeoff on Imre Kálmán's operetta, the Csárdáskirálynő (Chardash Queen). He accuses Gerő of "stepping outside of the constitutional framework" and of undemocratic impulses. An extension of individual rights to communities could immediately be used against those who in the eyes of the far-right are "anti-Hungarian." Registration to vote? Outrageous. He even questions a suggestion of Gerő I didn't mention that perhaps a professional body should pass judgment on the qualifications of judges nominated to the constitutional court. As for Gerő's suggestion to change Hungary into a monarchy, surely the reader at this point must think that Gerő is joking. Fleck seems to think that "someone who today is advocating a monarchy in Hungary is actually choosing the governing traditions prior to 1946." According to Fleck, "today a democrat can choose monarchy in only one way: to move to the territory of a Western-European kingdom." Those countries have different traditions, a different history. According to Fleck the problem is not about the constitution but about the republic.
I think that Gerő makes some very valid points. He is certainly right about the impossibility, given the present constitutional setup, of having a president who represents the unity of the nation. Either the "job description" must be changed–as Fidesz would like to see it–or the office itself should be transformed. Whether a constitutional monarchy would be a better option is of course subject to debate.
I'm most likely more sympathetic to Gerő's suggestion than most people. Yesterday he was interviewed by György Bolgár while the listeners were chatting on the internet forum. Several people suggested that Gerő must have eaten a toadstool (bolondgomba). Or I'm sure a lot would agree with Károly Herényi who, in another context, said that in Hungary "imbecility is setting in." I don't think that Gerő is joking or has lost his mind, and I regret that the other side refuses to engage in dialogue.