László Kövér has been extraordinarily talkative of late and one has the feeling that not even his own camp is always happy with his harsh, provocative words. A lot of liberal commentators don’t seem to take him seriously. “You know what Kövér is like,” they react. Only a few are coming to the conclusion that the sole “opposition” within Fidesz to Viktor Orbán’s policies comes from Kövér and his circle. And that internal opposition is from the right.
From an interview that Kövér gave to MTI I think we can safely say that he doesn’t have a clue what democracy is all about. Let’s start with what he thinks of parliamentary debates. According to the Constitution, while the Parliament is in session plenary sessions must be held every week. The 1989 Constitution stated the same thing, but that didn’t prevent the first Orbán government from changing it to “every third week.” An awful lot of criticism followed the decision because fewer sessions of parliament further limited the opportunity for the opposition to be heard. Kövér, however, seems determined to bring back the old practice, and he doesn’t hide his hope that by doing so he would take away “some of the play things of the opposition.” Such a change naturally would entail another modification of the barely one-year-old Constitution. But as we know well enough, that would not be a problem.
According to Kövér, one reason that might warrant such a change is that as of 2014 there will be only 199 members of parliament instead of 386 and therefore their work load will be a great deal heavier. But that is not the only reason. In Kövér’s words, the so-called “discussions on the details of the bills [részletes viták] are nothing but empty, boring, at times ad hominem cavils which interest no one [ in Hungarian “a kutyát sem érdekli”] besides the poor stenographers. Even the presiding chairman falls asleep on the dais.” On the same day Kövér expanded on the theme in an interview on Inforádió. He complained about “the time spent by the opposition voting down amendments when they ought to know full well which are the ones the government parties support.” So, why bother? In that case, indeed, one doesn’t need an opposition. Back to dictatorship!
And if Kövér doesn’t like a multi-party parliament why should he like the Constitutional Court? He doesn’t. In his opinion the Hungarian Constitutional Court simply doesn’t understand its own role. It acts as a “quasi appellate forum over parliament in such a way that the judges, unlike members of parliament and members of the government, are not responsible to anyone. The judges created the theocratic power of a divinity called ‘the invisible constitution’* over and above the sovereignty of the people.”
I don’t think that László Kövér reads this blog, although someone in his office does, but herewith a thing or two about the role of constitutional courts in Europe and the United States. I will first quote from an aid to civics teachers in American schools from grades 3 to 12. It is an easy text for youngsters and therefore should be super easy for László Kövér.
The Supreme Court has a special role to play in the United States system of government. The Constitution gives it the power to check, if necessary, the actions of the President and Congress. It can tell a President that his actions are not allowed by the Constitution. It can tell Congress that a law it passed violated the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, no longer a law. It can also tell the government of a state that one of its laws breaks a rule in the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all the Constitution.
In brief, this nasty U.S. Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the laws of the land. It’s not just those terrible Hungarian judges who try to foil the present government and parliament elected by the “people.” But if Kövér thinks that the United States goes too far and that the presidential system is radically different from the parliamentary system still in place in Hungary here is another description of the institution from Europe:
A constitutional court is a high court that deals primarily with constitutional law. Its main authority is to rule on whether or not laws that are challenged are in fact unconstitutional, i.e. whether or not they conflict with the constitutionally established rights and freedoms.
Nothing here about judges of the Constitutional Court being responsible to a higher authority, except the Constitution of the country. The Court is indeed part of those checks and balances Hillary Clinton often talked about with concern when it came to the dangerous path the Orbán government has taken in the last two and a half years. And here is the third most important dignitary of Hungary who seems to know less about how democracy works than a third grader in the United States.
As for the ad hominem attacks that Kövér is so upset about when he is the one who presides over the session like a nasty old nineteenth-century schoolmaster. Well, he himself is a frequent attack dog. He makes László Sólyom responsible for the present “constitutional bankruptcy of the country.” I assume it’s bankrupt because even the already packed Constitutional Court throws back bill after bill as being unconstitutional. And after László Sólyom, the first chief justice of the Constitutional Court and later president of the country, criticized the Orbán government, Kövér decided to accuse Sólyom of having a hurt ego. Viktor Orbán picked Pál Schmitt, who eventually had to resign in disgrace, instead of him. Not very elegant.
Yes, Sólyom is “at fault” because after all he was one of the framers of the Constitution as well as the man who had the greatest influence in shaping how the Hungarian Constitutional Court would function in the future. He is responsible for the Constitutional Court becoming “an appellate forum” of parliament and the government. What a tragic misunderstanding of the role of a constitutional court.
But that wasn’t enough. Kövér accused Sólyom of being the underling of the communists who were negotiating in the name of the MSZMP at the Ellenzéki Kerekasztal (Opposition Round Table) during the summer of 1989. According to Kövér, Sólyom and all those who supported him in his quest to set up a Constitutional Court were in fact helping the communists preserve their power. I assume Kövér thinks that it’s still a key element in the alleged communist conspiracy against the Orbán government. Soon enough something must be done about it. I’m sure that if it depended on Kövér the Court would simply disappear. There is already one Orbán appointee on the Court who thinks that it should be abolished.
Otherwise, Kövér is planning to put an end to any kind of unseemly behavior in parliament. Order will be established in the next session, with 349 guards making sure of it. These guards will receive a high salary, about three times that of an ordinary policeman, and will have similar rights. If there is a serious incident they can hit, kick, and even fire weapons. 199 MPs and 349 guards! Incredible. But if Orbán and Áder are shielded by the members of TEK (Anti-Terror Unit), it seems that Kövér must have his own guards. All 349 of them.
*It was László Sólyom who introduced the term “invisible constitution.” It basically means that the constitution must be interpreted in a flexible manner. It is the opposite of strict constructionism.