Why does Viktor Orbán need a new constitution?

The parliamentary debate on the new Hungarian constitution was short. The governing Fidesz-KDNP party assisted by the alleged opposition party, the far-right Jobbik, was in a great hurry. The general debate began on Monday morning and by Friday the whole thing was over with. Since the real opposition parties–MSZP and LMP–boycotted the proceedings, the debate was not much of a debate. According to plans, by Easter Monday Hungary will have a new constitution.

Why the rush? The question is especially appropriate since before and shortly after the elections Viktor Orbán, chairman of Fidesz and now prime minister of Hungary, didn’t seem to be terribly concerned about the speed with which the task should be accomplished. Moreover, in November-December 2009 when he first talked about the need for a new constitution, it seemed that the new version might not be radically different from the one currently in use. Orbán mostly talked about the necessity of writing a new, more dignified preamble and mentioned the Polish constitution as a model to follow.

When it came to a timetable he didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry. A year ago he was talking about 2012 as a possible deadline, which would have given about two years to come up with a new document. Then, by the early fall of 2010, the prime minister began talking about the urgent necessity of drafting the text. Why?

Here is one plausible explanation. Immediately after the elections Fidesz members of parliament bombarded the House with literally hundreds of legislative proposals. They were hastily constructed pieces that didn’t pay much attention to constitutional niceties. Day after day, the government ran into trouble: the legislative proposal didn’t comport to the constitution. However, since they had a two-thirds majority in the House they could change the constitution at will. And the Fidesz-KDNP members of parliament dutifully voted for the numerous changes. But then came a ruling of the Constitutional Court striking down a piece of legislation the government considered vital to its economic plans.

I think that was the last straw for Viktor Orbán. He came to the conclusion that his ambitious political and economic program cannot be realized as long as that darned constitution is in place. They must with all due speed replace it with one that would achieve at least two things he considered essential. First, to have a constitution that would not interfere with his immediate plans and, second, to have a basic law that would keep Fidesz in power, either officially or in effect, for some time to come. Orbán always dreamed of at least twenty years at the helm, but to achieve this in a parliamentary democracy is difficult.

As far as I can see, this constitution is a vehicle for Fidesz’s long-lasting political hegemony. Some people complain about the shoddy job the “framers” did. They point to the verbose and embarrassing preamble. But I think these people are wrong. The new constitution is a cunningly crafted document that will ensure Fidesz’s political sway for a very long time. Even if they lose the next election the constitution is written in such a way that their men will be in charge of all the so-called independent institutions. They will be able to restrict the activity of a new government. And, even worse, there are certain provisions that would tie any new government’s hands in introducing its own political and economic agenda. A good example is a paragraph in the constitution that forbids the government from changing the present tax system.

In brief, this constitution provides for Fidesz supremacy in the coming decades. In the case of a lost election, the country will be ungovernable. To change the constitution in the future will be well nigh impossible because of the two-thirds rule; Hungary is unlikely to see an electoral victory any time soon that is as sweeping as Fidesz’s was in 2010. The current constitution and naturally the new one as well has a provision that no referendum can be held on anything connected to the constitution. Thus it will be impossible in the future to ask the people whether they would like to scrap the Easter Constitution of Viktor Orbán. I assume that this is the reason that Orbán refuses to consider the possibility of holding a referendum on the new constitution now.

And let’s add that in this case the Hungarian opposition cannot hope for any help from the European Union. A member country’s constitution is its own business and outsiders cannot put any pressure on Viktor Orbán concerning this issue. Thus, the situation is quite hopeless. Public opinion polls show a very steep decline in the popularity of Fidesz, but unfortunately that will not change the situation down the road. Orbán, it seems, thought of everything and I don’t think that his political opponents can do much to change the situation.

 

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Member

@Odin Your story is echoing Mr Hofi’s take on the subject: We can’t buy a violin to all of them, can we? This is Planet Hungary Circus: people won’t decide to tolerate each other after waking up on sunny morning.
This is why I believe law and order is the most important at first. Equality in all aspects of the law. Not only in crime fighting also regarding helping the socially disadvantaged groups. I believe any affirmative action type measure would be a big mistake. I mentioned earlier strong law enforcement and prisons if needed. There is also a very controversial aspect of this. The laws should also equally protect the children no matter what family they were born in. Parents have responsibilities. Yes, I’m talking about strong social services, with lot’s of resources. But please don’t think that I’m advocating any Jobbik ideas. I’m not talking about Indian boarding schools in the US, like the one in Carlisle, PA.
Gosh. Just to talk about ideas makes you feel guilty …

Member
“Someone: Of course the American racists made up excuses for their hatred, but I doubt that the criminalization levels of the black population at that times were comparable to the extent crime is a common phenomena among the eastern European Romas today.” I do not understand. I replied to your original comment of ” “I don’t think the American racists (especially earlier in this century) were afraid of blacks.” I have simply point to the fact that indeed they were afraid. Jano, you also say: “Another difference: Can you show me any restaurants or pubs where they admittedly don’t serve Romas based solely on skin color? This was very common in the US.” We all know about the segregation policies up to the second third of the 20th century in the States. THis is not new information. iI am not sure what is the point you are making here. You cannot name one place in the USA for the last few decades where this would happen. In many places in Hungary gypsies would not even attempt (if they could afford it) to go into a restaurant. THe US should serve as a great example on how to overcome racial prejudice.… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Jano: “…France where they have been okay with their original Romas but forced repatriation of the eastern Europeans. Why?”
I will not answer that because I am not entirely sure about the motives. But independently of the Roma problem: if one country finds some workable solution for a problem, does that mean that other countries that out of whatever reason (perhaps too little effort but perhaps also adverse circumstances) did not devise a useful solution to a similar problem have the right to shift it to the country that was more successful and change little in their own country? I am not so sure.

Kirsten
Guest

Mutt, “The laws should also equally protect the children no matter what family they were born in. Parents have responsibilities.”
What I find interesting are the (rarely told) stories of Roma who have adopted the majority’s way of life, I think it often starts with parents who actively support their children in doing so. But for those who do not have such parents it may not change much if the police appeals to their responsibility (they may interpret it differently: “The best for them is to be just like us parents.”). So supporting strongly those who could give an example to others could be beneficial also because of this “model of change”. (But I admit that I do not believe much in successful change by force.)

Paul
Guest

It IS a colour issue. Not entirely, but certainly significantly.
Hungarians (and other eastern/central Europeans – and possibly many Westerners) will give you all sorts of reasons for their feelings towards Roma, but the main way they identify them is by their looks (skin and hair colour and ‘Asian’ looking faces).
Hungarians will often say that someone with slightly darker skin or black hair or ‘non-Hungarian’ features has “a touch of the Gypsy in them”.
And when, in the early days of the new regime, Czech immigration officials were turning back Gypsies, investigations showed that they were clearly basing their decisions on whom to stop and question on the colour of their skin/hair/etc.
It’s always easier to hate or suspect people when you can easily identify them. For instance, in the UK, the various waves of immigrants have usually been easy to identify – e.g. Jews because of their dress and behaviour, Asians and Africans/Afro-Carribeans because of their colour). But the most recent large influx of foreigners (Eastern Europeans, mainly Poles) is giving the racist a real headache – they look, dress and behave just like ‘us’!

Paul
Guest

“the country will be ungovernable”
This may very well be OV’s legacy.
If things go as we assume they will, by the next election Fidesz’s popularity might well be so low that they would never win if there was an effective opposition.
But, of course, OV’s masterstroke was to destroy the opposition, and to make it virtually impossible for the only man capable of reviving the opposition (and the country) ever to hold office again.
So Hungary ends up with a minority government, rejected by a large majority of the voters, and, quite possibly, Jobbik as the ‘opposition’. A ‘government’ which does not represent the people and which has no mandate.
Sounds remarkably like a dictatorship.

Christian Boulanger
Guest

Max Steinbeis and I have started a petition of constitutional scholars on the subject here:
http://verfassungsblog.de/hungarys-constitution-worry/
If you’re a scholar of constitutional law (from law, political science etc.), please sign the petition if you share our concern. Thank you.

Member

Eva: “A member country’s constitution is its own business and outsiders cannot put any pressure on Viktor Orbán concerning this issue. ” THis surprised me. There must be same basic law that EU countries must follow. I mean it is hard for me to believe that that the EU would of let itself open for any kind of constitutions.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Someone As you quite correctly say the EU is not interested in the constitutions of its member states UNLESS or UNTIL that constitution breeches an existing European Regulation or the European Charter of Human Rights.
Professor you write * “A good example is a paragraph in the constitution that forbids the government from changing the present tax system.” *
‘Hells bells and buckets of blood’!! That clause would be enough to get the whole Constitution thrown out in the European Court as it denies a fundamental right of in a democracy.
This is that the people shall give (for a time) the parliament the right of ‘Supply’ (taxation).
This clause denies the people the right to change their taxes! If it does that it denies the people their fundamental democratic rights.
Good bye Hungarian democracy I will watch you being ‘Drummed Out’ of the EU! It will be an interesting ceremony.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “It IS a colour issue. Not entirely, but certainly significantly”
I’m always surprised when in Hungary how Hungarians can spot a Gypsy. I can’t. We have such variety of colors here that I don’t pay the slightest attention to the matter. Thus I am not at all sensitive to color differences between Gypsy and not Gypsy which I find very slight.

dvhr
Guest

Eva: did you refer to this?
“(3) Nem lehet országos népszavazást tartani
[…] b) a központi költségvetésről, a költségvetés végrehajtásáról, központi adónemről, illetékről, járulékról, vámról, valamint a helyi adók központi feltételeiről szóló törvény tartalmáról,”

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

dvhr: “Eva: did you refer to this? “(3) Nem lehet országos népszavazást tartani […] b) a központi költségvetésről, a költségvetés végrehajtásáról, központi adónemről, illetékről, járulékról, vámról, valamint a helyi adók központi feltételeiről szóló törvény tartalmáról,”
I reread my piece and I’m still not quite sure what you are referring to. But if you brought up the question of a referendum, I don’t quite understand why analysts are baffled by Fidesz’s insistence on not holding a referendum on the new constitution. They would win, they say. What are they afraid of? But this is not the point. If the new constitution was approved in a referendum it can be also be scrapped by holding another referendum later. And Fidesz wants to avoid that by all costs.

Member

Eva: “We have such variety of colors here that I don’t pay the slightest attention to the matter.”
THis reminded me something. One day my daughter was telling me about an event that took place in her class,. As she was explaing who was involved, who did what, she mentioned the name of a girl and I could not recall who that girl is. So she started to describe the girl, but with each items I just drew a blank “You know, the tall one. She is very skinny. SHe has a brother in a lower grade. She is also in choir. She used to go the an other school. I was at her birthday party.” Suddenly it dawned on me. I asked, the black girl? Her answer was “Yes. She is the one.” They had one black girl in their class! My daughter totally forgot about the color of her skin.

Member

I was always wondering why do we need a government for a referendum? This passage above says “referendum cannot be held”. It’s actually a cynical way saying that the goverment will not give crap about the outcome.
What if we do a referendum ourselves? Ballots printed from donations, volunteers manning the booths even international volunteers to supervise impartiality. Then we would walk up to the parliament and rub his nose in it: look mother f*! More then 2/3 of your people wants to scrape this and this … man I want to see his face …

Member

Ok, one gipsy joke from Hofi Geza:



(in Hungarian, sorry)

Ron
Guest

Mutt Damon; Or they can dissolve parliament and hold new elections. The new parliament can accept or reject the constitution.

dvhr
Guest

Eva: All right. Please give the exact reference to the “paragraph in the constitution that forbids the government from changing the present tax system.”.
Which paragraph?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

dvhr: “Which paragraph?”
There are several but here is just one: XXVIII(2) which talks about the relationship between taxation and number of children. So, if a next government would like to change the system of “family taxation” Fidesz introduced it cannot.

Member

Ok, this is Youtube day. Here is something for those who are not fluent in Hungarian. From a TV show in the US called Bizarre Foods. In this episode the guy visits a gipsy village in Hungary. A must see.



Odin! Check out the Mangalica Gipsy Haggis (“majas hurka”)!

Minusio
Guest
My conviction is that the talk about future elections, the legalities of the new constitution and the like are futile. What has been in the making since last April was a change in paradigm for the way Hungary is governed: from a fragile, inefficient, problematic democracy that could not develop a political culture and was unable to find a consensus on dearly needed reforms – but: a democracy – to an autocratic rule that only goes through the motions of a parliamentary process. It is not even a one-party rule. It is a one-man rule. As a consequence, the examples (paradigms) of Tunisa and Egypt are more appropriate vehicles to imagine a change back to democracy – once the Hungarian people begin to become interested in politics or begin to understand that “res publica”, the commonwealth, is more than worrying about taxes, jobs and pensions. It necessitates energetic participation in public matters, the beginning of a civic spirit and a republican conscience. All this presupposes informed citizens. None of this is in sight, at least not in the form of a “critical mass”. The examples of Tunisia and Egypt (and Syria) are fitting in another sense, too: They were governed… Read more »
Jano
Guest

The blogmotor killed my previous post so I post it again:
I take it with a grain of salt and even if it’s true it won’t excuse Fidesz of anything but this is an interesting development and tells a lot about the great selection of alternatives here:
http://www.mno.hu/portal/775269

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “The blogmotor killed my previous post”
And who is the blogmotor?

Jano
Guest

“How long will it take for enough Hungarians to decide that they had had enough?”
Exactly as long as it takes them to feel the effects on their own skin. The things under the most debate (like constitutional court) are too abstract for the general population.
I have the feeling that most of the symbolic issues (christian/non-christian, etc, holy crown, etc.) are merely very successful distractions from the main points and the opposition is stupid enough to fall into this trap.

Jano
Guest

Eva: It happens every time, on many blogs, I guess typepad is not perfect either. I wasn’t implying you, don’t be paranoid.

Paul
Guest

An excellent post, Minusio. More or less what I would have written, had I been able to articulate what I feel.
The OV ‘revolution’ will end up with blood on the streets.

Paul
Guest

What’s happened to the trolls?
It’s too damned quiet! Are they up to something?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “I take it with a grain of salt and even if it’s true it won’t excuse Fidesz of anything but this is an interesting development and tells a lot about the great selection of alternatives here: http://www.mno.hu/portal/775269
It’s a brand new piece of news and I would advise people to read Hirszerzo’s article on the subject which is much more detailed
But even if they were preparing within the Ministry of Justice a basic text which was shelved it doesn’t mean much. We don’t know what would have happened if they decided to go ahead with it.

GW
Guest

Note the date on that Hirszerzo story. A great bit of parody, I’d say.

Member

Apropos April 1st:
http://bit.ly/hzKyCk

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Moreover, in November-December 2009 when he first talked about the need for a new constitution”
Thanks for nullifying the MSZMP/LMP claim about Orbán allegedly not talking before the elections about writing a new constitution.
Would you please forward your observation to MSZMP/LMP so that they may stop lying.

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