From the right there has been frequent and severe criticism of Hungary's "communist" constitution. "Communist" even though, compared to the 1949 constitution written following the Stalinist model, it is basically an entirely new document. People jokingly say that only one sentence was left untouched: Budapest is the capital of Hungary. As I mentioned elsewhere, the two men who were most responsible for this new/old constitution were László Sólyom, currently although not for long president of Hungary, and Péter Tölgyessy, who at the time was a member of an institute of the academy of sciences that specialized in legal philosophy. Sólyom subsequently became chief justice of the constitutional court while Tölgyessy embarked on a political career starting in SZDSZ and continuing in Fidesz until Fidesz decided to get rid of him as a member of parliament after eight years of total silence in the House.
Sólyom is perhaps the most vocal defender of the constitution, pointing out that it has served the Republic of Hungary well in the last twenty years. For the most part I agree with him. But it has one major flaw that is now being exploited with a vengeance. The Hungarian constitution can be changed at will by a two-thirds majority in parliament. While in Germany the constitution states that the document is untouchable and while in the United States a constitutional change was made so difficult that it became almost impossible, in Hungary it seems that practically every day now the Fidesz-ruled parliament comes up with new changes to the constitution. If the constitution seems to stand in the way of their hairbrained proposals then, no problem, they change the constitution. Sólyom found their proposal for electing judges to the constitutional court, including their proposal to change the constitution accordingly, flawed and sent it back for reconsideration. Unbowed, the Fidesz parliamentary majority sent the proposal back to him without changing a word. And the president the second time around was obliged to sign it. Of course, that includes the objectionable change in the constitution as well.
But that was just one proposed change. The contemplated new media law also requires a constitutional change and so does another law concerning taxation on income that is considered be "contra bonos mores" which in this case can be described as "offensive to decency or morality." To be more precise, since the government decided that any severance pay over 2 million forints is indecently high and therefore should be taxed at the rate of 98% this new law demands a constitutional change. They are also contemplating the introduction of a law that would allow the police to enter private premises in certain cases without a search warrant. Not surprisingly, that also requires a change in the constitution. And, I fear, that is only the beginning.
We don't know for sure what the members of the constitutional court think of all this, but I have the feeling that they are not exactly thrilled. After all, the judges are the ones who pass judgment on the work of parliament and what do they see now? Parliament changes the constitution right and left. Every day there are new provisions. In some cases, despite earlier court decisions, this new parliament is resubmitting laws already rejected and by changing the constitution they force the hands of the court. So, I can well imagine their reaction. The new president will undoubtedly be a willing partner in Fidesz's game, but it looks as if the constitutional court might not be that obliging. It was the court that first rejected the "request" to hang the Manifesto on National Cooperation on the wall of the court's building. (By the way, since then all the courts have followed suit, as was predictable.)
And what do the people think? Knowing the Hungarian people's attitude toward politics, most likely the majority of them pay not the slightest attention to this "rape" of the constitutional order. But here and there even those who voted for Fidesz are expressing their dismay. The compulsory display of the Manifesto, for instance, made a negative impression on many voters. I heard a long-time Fidesz supporter today condemning the helter-skelter legislative work that goes on in parliament. Others express their total astonishment at the amateurish handling of the economy. They watch with fear and trembling as the forint sinks against the Swiss franc and the euro. Moreover, it is becoming more and more obvious that the Bajnai government told the truth: there were no skeletons. And indeed, one cannot fail to notice that all the talk about skeletons stopped abruptly.
Although Fidesz has known for at least two years that they would win the elections, their only concern was to prepare a deluge of legislative proposals that would strengthen their political power. They paid absolutely no attention to the really important social and economic issues. Bit by bit, changing the constitution here and there, they are trying to make the "revolution" permanent even as Orbán offers up an ossified government that looks like an aged copy of his first administration. The same old Martonyi who was not exactly a resounding success as foreign minister or Matolcsy whose economic ideas started Hungary on the slippery slope of indebtedness and slow economic growth. They are back with about the same effectiveness as before.
The looming potential problem for the Hungarian electorate is that, even though the honeymoon with the Fidesz government might be short as people start to realize (as the foreign press already has) that their leaders are in fact the bunglers in Budapest, the rules to dissolve the marriage might be rewritten. A few more constitutional changes and divorce may become very difficult.