The article of April 1st gave me another impetus to consider whether it is possible to undo the damage the impending new constitution is about to wreak on Hungary. This is not the first time this question occurred to me and the article reanimated my earlier ideas on the subject. These musings might be considered an extended comment, or another approach, looking at the other side of the same coin.
Although the constitutional bickering over Fidesz’s legislative agenda may well explain their need to smooth the way for themselves, I don’t think this is their fundamental reason for the new constitution. Nor do I think that the unseemly rush into the process is necessary to enable more hair-raising legislation. After all, there is a universal agreement about the fact that, except for Orbán’s desires, there is no constitutional pressure – the existing one is quite serviceable.
It seems to me that the impetus came from Jobbik. They demanded a new constitution quite early, purely for ideological reasons, and because they were very noisy, Orbán recognized the opportunity for a double-barreled constitution that will grease the way for the legislative meanderings as well as solidify their long-term hegemony. At the same time he could overtake this Jobbik agenda item and turn it to his own benefit. The “side issues,” such as the matter of the Holy Crown, the inclusion of Christian heritage and the general curtailing of civil liberties are, from their point of view, just welcome additions to make their rule the smooth coasting they think it will provide.
Needless to say that the two-thirds majority that Fidesz regards as the ultima ratio and the empowerment for conjuring up the new constitution is possibly a necessary, but perhaps insufficient ground for enacting it. It was Orbán himself who challenged the legitimacy of the Gyurcsány government after the then premier’s famous “őszödi speech,” stating that there was a difference between the legality and the legitimacy of the government. The voters gave a majority to the Gyurcsány government based on their program, but the government is doing something else, in fact the opposite of that program, therefore they don’t have the support of the electorate. Based on that argument, regardless of whether it is correct or not, the constitutional shenanigans of the Orbán regime are glaringly illegitimate. In more sober times this might be an argument to overthrow the new constitution.
Another serious fault is that the new constitution is riddled with internal contradictions and inconsistencies. It is also in conflict with international law that Hungary is bound by. These conflicts cannot be reconciled in any other way but by jettisoning the whole construct.
A further mind-boggling prospect is that they make the constitution so intractable that, when in a few years all the problems come to the fore and corrections will be unavoidable, even they, with the two-thirds, will be unable to make the correction and it will crumble into their lap. The same thing may easily happen with their tax legislation, calcified into the constitution, and at the end they will depend on the mercy of their hated opposition for the correction. At that point, of course, the game would be up with a self-inflicted checkmate. (Provided that the opposition would be principled enough to resist the pressure.)
Can Fidesz last twenty years? Can they win the next election?
Both questions are too early to ask and even earlier to answer. However, it is clear they are losing public support rapidly. And the more they press forward, paying less and less attention to the expectations at large, the more rapidly are they losing the support of the electorate. I am sure they will use every possible trick in the book to assure their victory, but at the present rate they will use up the people’s good will in another year and a half. So far the loss amounts to one third of their supporters. It is not difficult to calculate what is left when one third of the two-thirds is gone. Especially when it wasn’t two-thirds of the people who voted for Fidesz but only 53%. At the moment there is no creditable opposition in the parliament, or anywhere else. My expectation, however, is that the general disapproval will inevitably congeal around some social force which has not yet formed, or will evolve from some small so far invisible formation. I wouldn’t bury Gyurcsány either. In any case, the twenty years is out of the question. For that to happen we would need a very tranquil country in very tranquil times, or the most formidable statesman. We don’t have either. Hungary’s history is especially poor in long-reigning premiers, only our dictators usually last. Perhaps this is why Orbán is eyeing the job. But he is doing more then just eyeing the job, he is enterprising to clear away all obstacles from the way of unfettered Fidesz hegemony. Some of those obstacles are the opposition and the constitution itself. Therefore, it appears that Orbán really doesn’t need and doesn’t want a constitution. His aim is to replace it with another, Fidesz-friendly hodgepodge.
Will the Fidesz construct serve for twenty or more years? Would it be possible to undo the damage later and if so what is required to do it?
The way they are going, the tenure of Fidesz promises to be short, even if they have not yet realized it. The successors may benefit and reach an overwhelming majority in parliament at the next election. Faced with the paralysis, imposed by the constitution, they will have, as the first line of attack, the question of legitimacy. The presently proposed changes are technically legal but can be challenged on the ground of legitimacy.
By renaming, or re-registering institutions, thus declaring them defunct, Fidesz opened the way to replacing them with their own and populating them with their own coterie. This avenue will be open to the successors to get rid of the solicitor general, the media authority and the rest of the Fidesz-made institutions.
The Constitutional Court might find that the legislative process in the forging of the constitution was contrary to the old, as well as to the new constitution and render it null and void.
Just as the electoral pendulum keeps swinging to further and further extremes, it is quite plausible that the next election might result in a Fidesz-less parliament. The fact that presently there isn’t effective opposition doesn’t mean much, because the next parliament will be filled with some kinds of members, inevitably smarting from the experience, and determined to correct the impossible state of affairs. In this case, regardless of party affiliation, they will have no choice other than to return the country to the constitutional republic state.
Before I am accused of pathological optimism, however, I must admit there is another prospect, far too horrendous to contemplate. The Hungarian electorate in its disappointment may not turn to moderate alternatives, but rather continue the march to the right and after the Fidesz self-distraction elevate the Jobbik, or some other ultra-right formation into government. That is entirely possible, under no circumstances could be ruled out and should it happen, if you think the country is on the way to disintegration now, just wait to see what those nice nazis can make of it.