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.