The right decision: MSZP refuses to assist Orbán’s illiberal democracy

In the last few days an intense debate has been waged over new constitutional court appointments. Very soon the mandates of three members of the fifteen-member constitutional court will expire; the term of Péter Paczolay, the former chief justice, expired almost a year ago. Therefore, in order to have a full court, four new justices must be appointed.

I don’t think it’s necessary to retell the sad story of a once well-functioning constitutional court that was first packed with Fidesz party loyalists and later stripped of most of its competence. In my opinion, and I’m not alone, the current constitutional court is an empty gesture toward the semblance of democracy.

With the departure of the three judges, all the remaining justices are Fidesz nominees, including two who were jointly nominated by Fidesz and Jobbik and approved by Fidesz’s two-thirds majority. Today, however, Fidesz no longer has the luxury of a super majority and so would like to come to some kind of understanding with the opposition parties. According to information obtained by Index, the original idea was that Fidesz would nominate three judges while an opposition party willing to strike a bargain with the government party would be able to sponsor one judge of its choice. Apparently, Jobbik was approached first. It immediately rejected the idea and proposed that Fidesz nominate two judges, Jobbik one, and the democratic opposition parties one. By early January, Fidesz apparently agreed to the scheme. The reason that Fidesz, or to be more precise Gergely Gulyás, who is the party’s negotiator, was so amenable is that if there is no agreement, the constitutional court will not have a chief justice either. According to the new rules, the chief justice is no longer elected by the other judges. His appointment must now be sanctioned by a two-thirds majority of parliament, which Fidesz no longer has.

Jobbik’s negotiators were naturally pleased, and for a while it looked as if some people in the MSZP leadership were also ready to sit down and negotiate with Fidesz. One MSZP politician, Gergely Bárándy, who has neither the backbone nor the smarts of his father, Péter Bárándy, the former minister of justice, was quite willing to lend his party’s name to this deal. A few weeks ago he told Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság that such an offer shouldn’t be rejected “just because of what has happened in the last six years.” They shouldn’t be offended and boycott the negotiations, because in that case not even one decent judge would sit on the court. But, as usual, the MSZP leadership was split.

It was under these circumstances that the Károly Eötvös Institute (EKIN), a legal think tank, came up with a brilliantly argued piece of writing titled “Should the opposition nominate a judge to the constitutional court?”

Here I will summarize the argument of this NGO. There are three possible alternatives. The first is that the opposition parties accept the offer. The second, that the left-of-center parties turn the offer down and Fidesz makes a separate deal with Jobbik. Third, they simply don’t pick new judges and thereby the court will have only eleven members. In order to have a quorum, at least ten judges must be present.

In the opinion of the Institute, “the reasons for turning down the offer are overwhelming.” All eleven judges are Fidesz appointees, and the majority of them are clearly “government loyalists.” One lone judge nominated by the left makes not the slightest difference. At the same time, the negative consequences are numerous. First, agreeing to participate would give the impression of multi-party consensus. Second, those opposition parties that until this point had criticized the practices of the Orbán regime would lose their right to criticize the constitutional court. Third, by engaging in a negotiation with Jobbik, the democratic parties would go against their declared position never to cooperate with this far-right party. Taken alone, each of these concessions is unacceptable, but together “it is sheer madness both morally and politically.”

If MSZP and other democratic parties represented in parliament refuse to participate, Fidesz would be forced to make a deal with Jobbik, which “would strengthen the illegitimacy of the constitutional court at home and abroad.” If neither the new members nor the chief justice can be installed, it could easily happen that the functioning of the court could be jeopardized. But “because the court today … doesn’t exercise any real control over the government majority, we can’t consider this a real loss.” The only alternative for the democratic parties would be a return to the nominating practice that was in place prior to 2010 and to the reestablishment of the full competence of the court. Surely, Orbán will never agree to this, and therefore “there is no real alternative to the rejection of the offer.”

At this point and for a couple of days later it was unclear what MSZP was planning to do. Then two days ago Ferenc Gyurcsány, chairman of the Demokratikus Koalicíó, on his Facebook page announced that since there is consensus among the democratic parties that Fidesz destroyed the Third Republic, anyone who assists Fidesz in obscuring this fact is an accomplice of Viktor Orbán and a traitor to the democratic opposition’s policies.

Today József Tóbiás made the long-awaited announcement. MSZP will not nominate anyone and will not take part in the ongoing discussions concerning the appointment of the four judges to the constitutional court.

Jözsef Tóbiás announces the decision: No help to Fidesz

Jözsef Tóbiás announces the decision: No help for Fidesz

As for LMP, as usual it refuses to join the other democratic parties and is ready to negotiate with Fidesz and Jobbik. András Schiffer, co-chairman, doesn’t agree with EKIN’s analysis of the situation. He sees some differences in the opinions of the judges despite the fact that they are all government appointees. Therefore he believes that the opposition should add its own nominee to strengthen the admittedly very “nuanced” voices. However, he doesn’t want to see a return to the old practice, which simply meant voting down each other’s candidates. He would like to have consensus. He claims that he knows four people who would be acceptable to all parties.

Of course, at this point Schiffer didn’t know whether MSZP was game or not. Since that question was decided today, I wonder how Fidesz-Jobbik on one side and LMP alone on the other side will agree on four acceptable candidates. What other democratic parties think of Schiffer is demonstrated by an open letter of Viktor Szigetvári, chairman of Együtt, in which he expressed his utter dismay at LMP’s decision. He accused Schiffer of “assisting in the consolidation of the illiberal regime” in Hungary. Such a move “is not just a mistake but an unfathomable shame.”

The usually belligerent Lajos Kósa was the first Fidesz representative to respond to the news of MSZP’s decision, and he sounded rather sad. Fidesz will send an invitation to the party even after Tóbiás’s announcement. This tone tells me that EKIN’s analysis was correct and that MSZP made the right decision.

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Member
The Magyar Malady This particular (correct) decision was a no-brainer; but in order to become part of the solution rather than the problem MSzP would have to make a rule of doing the right thing, rather than just the occasional exception. As usual, Gyurcsany’s Democratic Coalition (DK) is the only party with consistent vision, integrity and depth. If the genuine democrats in the other parties united with them there might be some hope for bringing the Orbanian odium to an end. But for that, petty differences and personal ambitions would have to be set aside… If not, then abstaining from the constitutional court appointment sham will prove as ineffectual as abstaining from the constitutional revision sham (another correct decision, historically, but with no practical purchase in the present, again for lack of a united opposition). Not only would a genuinely united opposition be the best counterweight to Orban’s increasingly sinister machinations, but it would give the EU and the US a concrete alternative to support and nurture (in many, many potentially important and effective ways). (Please spare me the predictable petty cavils about Gyurcsany by the democratic pundits on this list who, in their divisiveness, petty recriminations and perpetual pessimism… Read more »
Observer
Guest
Hear, hear! The “half Asian derivate, who understand only force” (VO), with their late feudal society, have never had never anything close to democracy, no trade unions or civil rights movements, no significant/strong middle class or ethics. The only parties/organizations to survive were those ruled by strong leaders often in not perfectly democratic a way, if such ever existed (Fidesz being the best example), and those who let liberal principles overtake political considerations simply waned into oblivion (SZDSZ after Kuncze, or even MSZP after Horn). The “amortization” of Gyrcsány, in which Fidesz put so much effort and was so proud of, was made possible by the dogmatic social club liberals, bitching short sighted opinion leaders/media and duplicitous MSZP leaders who stepped back and left their MP take the furious barrage alone. Now we see they all paid dearly for their mistakes, dogmatism, perfidy or plain stupidity. At least I am glad to see many democrats turn around and take decisive stand (R.Ungavári, T.Mellár, Sz.Kerék-Barczy, etc.) Until another leader of this caliber appears (this may take a miracle, I’m afraid) FGy is the front runner by far. To oust the Orban mafia would take a cold civil war and leadership would… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Test

Guest

London Calling!

EKIN’s recommendations are hardly deserving of a think tank.

In the warped parliament of Hungary co-operation for any initiative should have been withdrawn by ALL parties – who should be united in their total opposition – as a default to this commocracy parliament.

Period.

Regards

Charlie

bimbi
Guest

This is an important post, delineating the Orban/Fidesz/KDNP latest step in subjecting Hungary and Hungarians to more and more Control, Control, Control. The MSzP is to be congratulated on seeing the way ahead, i.e., a policy of NON-COOPERATION with this controlling and corrupt government. If our opposition politicians cannot do this – what hope is there for the rest of us? The quasi-fascist Fidesz and the Nazi Jobbik parties should be given NO assistance in forwarding their designs of theft and control on the Hungarian people who, some day, will awake. Can’t happen soon enough!

Reg
Guest

Schiffer is paid by Fidesz, so what’s the surprise? This is a rare pleasant surprise by MSZP.

Reg
Guest

By the way Orban is being summoned to Moscow.

And Laci Kövér wants to reinstate the draft – I guess this is very popular among those over 45 (“those kids would at least learn some discipline” ), less so with the younger generations but they don’t vote and want to leave Hungary forever anyway.

http://444.hu/2016/01/16/orban-moszkvaba-utazik-putyinhoz

spectator
Guest
Just how hard was it to figure out that any participation in this truly rotten system is only strengthening the legitimacy of Orbán’s pseudo-nazi rule? Unfortunately the gesture is ‘too little and too late’, as usual. The only clear message would have been to boycott the elections altogether, but then all those “democrats” should have find some other means to support themselves… Stevan is absolutely right, the only consistency seems to exist in the DK, the only person with the appropriate leader-qualities is Gyurcsány, whoever says whatever else. If anyone aspiring to the role, let come forward and prove that (s)he indeed significantly better, then let’s talk about “the” another one. Otherwise we have heard countless times already the ‘why not him’ arguments, so it’s truly overflowing already. Not to mention the sad fact, that the same (kind of ) argument will spread about anybody, in the very moment they’ll openly stand on front: we’re talking about Hungary, remember! Till then I’d rather support the ‘no nonsense’ — well, ‘no bullshit’ the proper — approach of Gyurcsány and the DK than any other formation. I hope sometime in my life vill be even a real Democratic Coalition, as is a… Read more »
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