Although I promised Open Dog that I would give some details about Ferenc Gyurcsány's student days in Pécs, life intervened. Today Hungary witnessed perhaps the greatest attack on a democratic country's constitutional order. Democratically minded people are in total shock. They still can't quite believe what happened during the course of the day.
This morning at 11:30 a.m. MTI reported the unanimous decision of the constitutional court: the 98% retroactive extra tax on any income over two million forints received either as a retirement package or as severence pay was deemed unconstitutional. This newly adopted law was of course applicable only at publicly financed institutions. Trade unions rightly pointed out that this new law might affect people who after forty years as lowly paid teachers would be deprived of their retirement package. Therefore several individuals and institutions asked the constitutional court to review this new law. Most likely the government also had its doubts concerning the constitutionality of this piece of legislation because it waited until László Sólyom was out of the way. Pál Schmitt, the handpicked patsy, signed it on his very first day in office.
My first reaction after hearing the decision of the court was total astonishment and joy. I was very worried that even the constitutional court would be nothing more than an instrument of a government with few democratic impulses. Yet here it was, a unanimous decision. Even Orbán's old friend István Stumpf considered this law unconstitutional. So, I reasoned, there is hope. The courts will stop Orbán's dictatorial steps and will put an end to this madness.
My relief was short-lived. At 2.30 p.m. came the news that János Lázár, the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, announced that he is seeking a change in the constitution so that the constitutional court would be barred from rendering decisions on any subject on which a plebiscite cannot be held. Since no referendum can be held on topics that in any way have an effect on the budget, it is clear that the constitutional court, after the proposed constitutional change, will not have the right to make decisions such as they just made concerning the 98% extra tax. And, he added, at the same time they will pass the "unconstitutional" law in an unaltered form. The constitutional court can hang itself. Who are they to say no to the two-thirds revolution of Fidesz? Their decision only meant to Orbán and his friends "that the old constitution is unable to give proper answers to the problems of the people."
It seems that the constitutional court itself was in a revolutionary mood because two hours after Lázár's threat to narrow its competence it handed down another decision which was a direct assault against one of the pieces of legislation enacted by the Fidesz parliament. To give a brief background. There is an institution called Gazdasági Versenyhivatal that is the watchdog over fair economic competition in the world of business. It has a chairman and two vice chairmen who are appointed for six-year terms at different times. Orbán, who likes to have his own men in every post, was relieved to learn that the chairman's six-year term would be up within a few months. But, how annoying, the two vice-chairmen still had years to go. Ah, but only a minor annoyance. Parliament passed a piece of legislation to change the law so that with the expiration of the chairman's term the terms of the two vice-chairmen would also come to an end. That law was suspect to László Sólyom, who sent it on to the constitutional court for constitutional "control." And the court today agreed with Sólyom.
Meanwhile the opposition was stunned. It was LMP that first reacted rather forcefully. A couple of hours after Lázár's announcement that they would change the constitution to narrow the competence of the constitutional court András Schiffer, the head of LMP's parliamentary delegation, announced that "Fidesz today declared war on constitutional democracy" and the government party "crossed the Rubicon." According to him Fidesz's methods "must be the envy even of Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan." Therefore, LMP will no longer be represented on the parliamentary committee that was established to work out the new constitution.
Let's stop here and backtrack a bit. I haven't had time to report on Ferenc Gyurcsány's political activities of late. He decided that it was time to get involved in politics again. It seems that he would like to reorganize MSZP not just structurally but also ideologically. He thinks that MSZP must open itself toward the center and that it should collect either as party members or sympathizers people who have not been MSZP voters in the past.
MSZP is made up of different "platforms." These platforms, there are six or seven of them, seem to be conglomerations of like-minded people. Gyurcsány decided to set up a new platform called Demokratikus Koalíció which is different from the others in the sense that one doesn't need to be a party member to join. He was recruiting only on the Internet and within two weeks or so the new platform gained more than 3,000 members. Just to give an idea of what that means: all the other platforms have no more than 100-200 members each. Last week the platform had its first meeting: close to 1,000 people showed up in a tent set up in Szent István Park.
Gyurcsány at this meeting to enthusiastic cheers suggested that MSZP shouldn't take part in the constitutional committee's work because by being there it associates itself with the future constitution which in no way will reflect any of the ideas held dear by the party.
Last night on the Újságíró Klub, a weekly political program of four journalists discussing the events of the past week, the question of MSZP's participation came up. Led by János Avar, the consensus was that MSZP shouldn't boycott the work of the constitutional committee. Avar, who is no friend of Ferenc Gyurcsány, pretty well accused him of trying to sow dissension within the party which at present would be a suicidal move. There should be no criticism levelled against the leadership from within.
Well, what do you think happened after LMP announced its withdrawal from the committee? Naturally, MSZP followed suit. But what else could they have done? It would have been better if they had made this decision on their own, but now they really couldn't do anything else. They would have been better off listening to Gyurcsány.
And finally, Gyurcsány called for a joint demonstration of all democrats in defense of the constitutional court. LMP's answer? They won't demonstrate together with Gyurcsány and MSZP. They will hold a separate demonstration. I understand their reasoning, but there is strength in numbers. This is a case in which the future of Hungarian democracy might trump party politics.