If Fidesz doesn’t like the constitution it changes it

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.

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Sandor
Guest

Orban and the Fidesz are making three mistakes in one.
Consider this golden maxim:
“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.
Abraham Lincoln”
The first mistake is that he fancied himself as a student of American history, without being aware of the above maxim.
The second is that by meddling with the Constitution, he is laying himself open to the whims of his eventual successors.
The third is that constitutional changes do not make the economy work any better, albeit what he really needs urgently is economic reform.
Fourth, ( I know, only promised three, but what can I do in the face of such aboundance?), the wasting of political capital on such ineffectual legislative baubles will soon suck them dry.
The process of struggling to be taken seriously has already began. Even if they are in denial.

Mark
Guest

I think Sándor’s fourth identified mistake is by far the most serious. It strikes me there is considerable fear within the state bureaucracy over the extent of the personnel changes that is seriously de-stabilizing things. All the time the mortgage payments for middle class people are becoming more expensive. The communication lines in the government are utterly confused, and the government in a number of spheres – this is especially noticeable in economic policy – is making announcements without subjecting them to reality testing. This situation might continue over the summer when most people are not looking, but I doubt it can go on for very long, before they meet with a serious crisis.
I’m not surprised by their radicalism in the constitutional sphere; nor am I surprised by the fact that large sections of the state are being purged. I am surprised at how badly planned, chaotic, and frankly incompetent they are.

Member

“I’m not surprised by their radicalism in the constitutional sphere; nor am I surprised by the fact that large sections of the state are being purged. I am surprised at how badly planned, chaotic, and frankly incompetent they are.”
Unfortunately the post-election period has shown that Fidesz has been doing nothing over the last 8 years other than plotting revenge. They don’t seem to have any well thought out plan or strategy for doing anything other than trying to keep their hold on power and the privilege that comes with it.
It is revealing that one of their first actions was to replace the national audit chief with a party stooge. This can only be a preparation for looting the taxpayer’s coffers with impunity.

pgyzs
Guest
I could agree with what you wrote, however you seem to fail to see that these are all temporary modifications of the current constitution. We will have a new constitution in a couple of years (after a referendum I hope), in which these individual discrepancies will be a part of a unified system. Let’s hope so. I’m not afraid that we’ll switch to presidential system or kingdom, etc. what is usually written by left-wing publicists/commenters, but there is a lot of ways this country could work better even at level of the foundations. (and not because the current const. would be communist or there should be holy-crown ideology in it or etc. like that). On the other hand, I share your concern that much more power will be given to the reigning goverment, not just because Orbán (I’m far less disgusted by the guy than you, even though I don’t like him all the time either), but because who knows who will have this authority in 20 or 40 years (constitutions usually last longer than a few electorate cycles), I just don’t feel safe about it. Back to the beginning, this practice is still not good and humiliates the whole… Read more »
Alias3T
Guest

What army of parachuters? I can only think of a handful of appointees, some of them, like Adam Farkas at PSZAF, completely outstanding in their field.
Can you list some members of this army?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Alias3T: “What army of parachuters? I can only think of a handful of appointees, some of them, like Adam Farkas at PSZAF, completely outstanding in their field. Can you list some members of this army?”
I didn’t want to bore the readers with an army of names that most likely mean nothing to them. However, just yesterday appeared an article in Népszabadság that lists all those who were fired or left because they knew that they would be kicked out. Here is the link: http://nol.hu/belfold/kiket_rugott_ki_eddig_az_orban-kormany_

Sandor
Guest

A copious and amusing list to be sure. I have no idea who the actual personages are.
But the list doesn’t answer the claim that the last minute appointments were replaced. In fact many of these people had seemingly tenured positions for a definite period, from well before the ascendance of Bajnai.

pgyzs
Guest
These “army of parachuters” were under debate when Bajnai (who personally I respect) was still in office. I’m not at all talking about the first-liners like the mentioned Adam Farkas, although the functionality of PSZÁF is at least debatable in the past years, in the time of the financial crisis, but discussing this would lead us much off topic. Mentioning PSZÁF, just remember how Károly Szász’s first reign ended. I claim that the list of Népszabi is just a so-far list – if even complete (in fact it is very superficial just concentrating on the top cases) – while the process is still on. E.g. if you take a look at the list put together by the right-wing media e.g. Magyar Nemzet, etc. in the last few months of the Bajnai goverment the picture will be entirely different. I also remember Heti Válasz puting together a fairly long list of “parachuters”, I don’t have time to search archives, but there seem to be bunch of people who has, if interested, if I find it online, I’ll link it. This is what this country is like, if you seek arguments from the left wing, you read Népszava/Népszabadság, watch ATV, if you… Read more »
Alias3T
Guest

Pgyzs – please, if you have a moment, try and track down that Heti Valasz article.
The truth is, I do pay fairly close attention to the Fidesz-linked media, and I truly saw nothing to substantiate the claim that there was a consistent policy of parachuting people in ahead of the elections – and that’s why I’d be very interested to see the piece you cite.

pgyzs
Guest

Alias3T – I’ll try my best, but the online archives of Heti Válasz is a nightmare and I’m not even sure it appeared anywhere else than the printed version. Perhaps I’ll ask them directly by e-mail.
What I tried to say that the intentions behind these ad-hoc constitution changes are clear and I should not only write last time parachuters, since this applies to all the people with (supposed) MSZP-loyalty appointed during the eight years.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Pgyzs: “. E.g. if you take a look at the list put together by the right-wing media e.g. Magyar Nemzet, etc. in the last few months of the Bajnai goverment the picture will be entirely different.”
The problem is that Magyar Nemzet is very unreliable. I just read somewhere that since 2002 Magyar Nemzet had to retract at least 200 times. And these cases came to surface only after the courts ordered retraction. I bet a lot of time people didn’t even complain. Therefore, I’m very cautious when it comes to MN revelations.

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