Hungary has formally instituted a new constitution, mostly the work of the ruling Fidesz party, which has benefited from a strong majority in parliament to pass its ideas with out opposition. The old centre-left "Socialist Party" lost the elections in a landslide after a reaction against the party's privatization and market reforms. Initially Fidesz brought in smaller, 'like-minded' political groups like a small 'christian democrat' and the far-right Jobbik, though during different stages Jobbik later withdrew its support finding that its demands were adequately put into the body of the constitution.
Opposition Protests Constitution In Hungary
By PALKO KARASZ and MELISSA EDDY
BUDAPEST — As the governing party celebrated its achievements inside, tens of thousands of Hungarians rallied outside the nation’s 19th-century opera house on Monday in a rare opposition protest of what critics see as a campaign by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to undermine democracy and consolidate his power.
The protest — a day after the country’s new “majoritarian” Constitution took effect — was the first time that opposition groups, from political parties to civil organizations, joined forces to rally against the new Constitution, which was drawn up and ratified by Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party in defiance of criticism from Europe and the United States.
Fidesz used its two-thirds supermajority in Parliament to adopt the Constitution, which critics say tightens the government’s grip on the news media and the courts and dismantles democratic aspects of the judiciary. Last month, the government passed a measure that critics said seriously weakened the independence of the nation’s central bank.
While various organizations have staged protests over the past year, Monday’s rally was a previously unseen show of unity by various opposition parties and civil groups, and timed to coincide with the extravagant gala organized by Fidesz to celebrate the signing of the Constitution.
Thousands of disgruntled Hungarians poured into Budapest’s Andrássy Street, which is lined with luxury shops leading down from the opera house.
“Democracy has disappeared in Hungary — they even took the republic from us,” said Tamas Kollar, 56, referring to his nation’s name change, from the Republic of Hungary to simply Hungary. Mr. Kollar said he felt robbed of his rights under Mr. Orban’s government.
Organizers addressing the crowd estimated that tens of thousands had turned out to fill the square outside the ornate National Opera, in the heart of the city. Riot police officers had secured the area and moved into the crowd after scuffling broke out among protesters and members of the far right, identified by the red and white flags they carried, who then dispersed.
The far-right Jobbik party said in a statement that it would not participate in the protest, but called its supporters to a parallel demonstration nearby, leading to fears of clashes reminiscent of 2006 riots over demands that Ferenc Gyurcsany, then the prime minister, step down.
Since then, Hungarians have seemed reluctant to take to the streets.
Although protests took place throughout 2011, they were relatively small. Monday’s turnout fed opposition hopes that a sizable crowd could send a clear message to the government.
Petr Konya of the Hungarian Solidarity Movement, which helped organize the demonstrations, told the cheering crowd that 2012 would be a year of hope.
“We want the rule of law back and we want the republic back,” Mr. Konya said, to loud cheers. “Viktor Orban forgot that the power belongs to the people, it belongs to us, and we will get it back from them.”
Mr. Orban and his supporters insist that the changes to the Constitution and other laws are only steps that make good on campaign promises to do away with the old order and complete the transition from Communism that had stalled under previous governments.
Palko Karasz reported from Budapest, and Melissa Eddy from Berlin.
As the article points out different people have different problems with the consittution. Ruling party says these changes are necessary to move out of Hungary's past and deal with the current economic crisis in the Eurozone. I wrote some background on the constitution some months ago when the draft was released to the public. Post is as it was when I made it, as you'll see from the end when I say when the constitution comes in force.
The constituion was mostly a Fidesz job (the "centre"-right party with 2/3rds majority in parliament) and is being hailed by its proponents, including PM Viktor Orbán, as a "constitution of the 21st century" and a necessary step to make Hungary transition fully out of the remains of its 'totalitarian' past into a "democratic" state.
However it's been accused, and correctly I think, that the constitution merely advances the views of Fidesz and cements ways for its legislation to be difficult to overturn.
The constitution itself was a collaborative effort between Fidesz and Jobbik, as well as a minor party with no seat in parliament, the Christian Democrats. While an invitation was given to the soc-dem Socialists and Greens, they rejected this due to feeling that Fidesz wouldn't take their requests seriously.
When it came to vote Fidesz had enough by themselves to pass the constitution. Jobbik interestingly voted against it- more of a sign of their anger that the constitution didn't embody more of their views than a rejection.
The first batch are from the Preamble
We are proud, that our King St. Stephen established the Hungarian state on firm foundations a thousand years ago and made our country a part of Christian Europe...
We recognize the role of Christianity in preserving our nationhood
We first see here in the constitution right away acknowledging the role of Christianity in the foundation of the Hungarian state. A lot of feel-good Christian rhetoric was used by Fidesz and Jobbik during their electioneering and it has made its way into the first part of the constitution.
"We promise to preserve the spiritual and intellectual unity of our nation battered by the storms of the past century..."
Obviously they're referring to the Communist regime after WW II as well as the dictatorships of the Iron Arrow and Horthy, right? No, just the Communists, as they'll refer to later...
"We consider that state sovereignty of Hungary lost on March 19, 1944 was regained on May 2, 1990, when the first freely elected elected representative body of the people was constituted..."
These two dates signify to these nationalists important times apparently. The first is when Horthy was forced out of Hungary and replaced with a puppet regime headed by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party, and the last is when the socialist state held its first elections shortly before its collapse. Despite all this big talk about the crimes "past century", it seems to focus more on the communist era more than anything else.
Mind you, this is a constitution, which is the political structure of the state- not the area for polemics.
Then we get into some really questionable content.
We declare that after the decades of events of the twentieth century that lead to a moral decline, we have an eminent need of spirtual and intellectual renewal
I don't need to explain the use of words there. They're making their intentions quite clear as they follow up with this.
We trust in the future we jointly build, the commitment of the young generations. We believe that our children and grandchildren will use their talent, perseverance and emotional strength to make Hungary great again
The constitution is written predictably. There's the usual guarantees but there are some questionable passages that people've seen as more rooted in ideology of Fidesz- social traditions, emphasis on culture and religion, "fiscal responsibility", etc.
Article D has caused some issue with Hungary's neighbors.
Motivated by the ideal of a unified Hungarian nation, Hungary shall bear a sense of responsibility for the destiny of Hungarians living outside her borders, shall promote their survival and development, and will continue to support their efforts to preserve their Hungarian culture, and foster their cooperation with each other and with Hungary.
Note, "Ideal of a unified Hungarian nation" can also refer to the territories of Greater Hungary, which had motivated Horthy and others in the first places to throw his lot in with the Axis to regain these from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania. Never mind that it already preaches this, it also places itself in the responsibility of Hungarians that live outside, i.e. in those territories of Greater Hungary.
c) the 23rd of October, to commemorate the 1956 revolution and freedom fight.
Article L regards budget balancing and not running defieits. Basically says the government and parliament's decisions are binding to all other levels of government.
(1) Hungary will operate based on the principle of balanced, transparent and sustainable budget management. (2) The Parliament and the Government will bear the primary responsibility for the implementation of the above principles. (3) In carrying out their tasks the Constitutional Court, the judiciary, the local governments and other state authorities will be obliged to observe these objectives.
This would help in furthering austerity regardless of which ever party goes by it.
The first piece of article M has taken aim at gay marriage:
(1) Hungary protects the institution of marriage between man and woman, a matrimonial relationship voluntarily established, as well as the family as the basis for the survival of the nation.Article S basically sets up means for the state to make it difficult to amend any sort of orders that come from higher up as well as state of emergency measures...
(1) Generally binding rules of conduct shall be established only by laws issued by law-making authorities specified in the Constitution and published in the Official Gazette. A super majority law may stipulate different publication requirements for promulgating local government decrees and legislation passed during on emergency.
(2) An Act of Parliament, a Government Decree, a Decree of the President of the National Bank, a Decree of the Prime Minister, a Ministerial Decree, the decrees issued by independent regulatory bodies and local governments shall have the force of law. A decree issued by the National Defence Council during a state of extraordinary condition and a decree issued by the President of the Republic during a state of emergency will also have the force of law.
(3) Super majority law shall be all statutes, which to be adopted or amended require the vote of two thirds of the Members of Parliament present.
Article II under "Freedom and Responsibility" makes the constitution's stance on abortion clear:
Human dignity is inviolable. Everyone has the right to life and human dignity; the life of a foetus will be protected from conception.
Article III point III outlaws "reproductive cloning" as well.
(3) Eugenic practices aimed at selection of persons, making the human body and its parts a source of profit and the reproductive cloning of human beings are prohibited.
Amusingly in Article VI the constitution asserts the seperation of Church and State, though we can already see the positions of the church being wedged in different places here and there.
Article XIV asserts, almost as a token gesture, that Hungary respects the equality of all citizens regardless of their views, sex, ethnicity, etc- though we've seen this is already violated with the definition of marriage!
The economic article is pretty routine but I found this bit amusing which smacks of old corporatist theories.
(1) Employees and employers will cooperate in the interest of maintaining the national economy, ensuring jobs and implementing other community objectives
Article XVIII regarding Welfare
(4) Hungary will ensure the livelihood for the elderly by maintaining an integrated state pension system based on social solidarity and by allowing the functioning of voluntary social institutions.
Note "voluntary social institutions". Basically a sly way to push away welfare duties from the state to the church. In fact there's a lot of emphasis on the role of the "community" and churches in welfare and other manners across the entire text of the constitution.
Article XXI regarding voting:
(2) It cannot be considered an infringement of equal voting rights if a super majority law provides an additional vote for mothers in families with minor children, or as a provided by law, another person may be entitled to an additional vote.
This is an extension of the lofty "family politics" that Fidesz advanced as it went around. Essentially it's been interpreted as a means to entitle a mother or other parent multiple votes for their children's "interests". Basically they vote on behalf of them.
This, at the same time, while the state takes aim at various welfare and social safety nets that a good deal of people rely on.
Article XXVII makes the usual statements about respecting ethnic minorities residing within Hungary and their right to self-rule and pursuit of their culture. I wonder if that'll be extended to the Roma, with their large families and all.
The next section deals with "The State". First article has some functions of parliament but these are the two that interest me:
g) dissolves representative councils functioning in breach of the Constitution
h) renders decisions pertaining to extraordinary legal circumstances and military operations
Oh gee I can't wait to see how that'll be used.
Oh, and recall their whole spheel about the rights of minorities? They also say this:
(2) The participation of national and ethnic minorities living in Hungary in the work of the Parliament will be regulated by a super majority law
Note that it doesn't necessarily guarantee that voting rights have to be provided.
The president is also empowered to dissolve Parliament if they don't pass a budget.
(3) The President of the Republic may dissolve the Parliament, simultaneously with the announcement of new elections, if: b) the Parliament does not adopt the central budget by March 31.
This of course goes with the provision of elections- but still, there's a lot of emphasis on this matter.
There has also been the creation of a so-called "Constitutional Court"- which has fairly overarching power in legislation relating to budget and tax issues and whether or not the parliament can even pass it.
The constitution also pretty much makes referendum pretty worthless:
Article 8 under "The State"
No national referendum may be held on: a) the amendment of the Constitution, b) the statutes concerning State Budget and its implementation, central taxes, fees pension and health contribution customs duties, as well as on the content of statutes concerning central requirements on local taxes, c) the content of laws related to the election of Members of Parliament, local government representatives and mayors, as well as Members of the European Parliament, d) the obligations arising from international treaties in force, e) on personnel issues, and organizational structures within the competence of the Parliament; f) the dissolution of the Parliament g) the dissolution of a council of representatives, h) the declaration of a state of war, a state of extraordinary measures or a state of emergency, i) general amnesty.
The power of the president has also been expanded. It is not popularly elected but chosen by Parliament.
(3) The President of the Republic shall a) represent Hungary, b) participate and speak at the sessions of the Parliament, c) initiate laws, d) initiate a national referendum, e) set the date for general parliamentary, local government and mayoral elections, as well as the dates of European Parliament elections and national referendum, f) make decisions related to extraordinary legal matters, g) convene the constituting session of the Parliament, h) dissolve the Parliament, i) may refer an adopted law for constitutional review to the Constitutional Court or refer it back to the Parliament for reconsideration, j) propose candidates for the office of the Prime Minister, the President of the Curia, the Chief Prosecutor and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, k) appoint professional judges and the Chairman of the Budgetary Council, l) confirm the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and m) decide all issues assigned to the President’s competence by law.
I'm not going to keep quoting the rest of the intracies of the political structure, but from my reading it appears they are wanting to further centralize power into the head of the state with a disregard for "seperation of powers" and "checks and balances". Curious, isn't that what the big bad Communists did?
The constitutional court, which seems to be separate from the Judiciary, is formed from the parliament. Its functions are listed in article 24- and as I mentioned before it gives it strong functions in regards to taxes and budgeting.
A judicial portion follows- but compared to the attention and powers weighed upon for parliament it seems to be small in comparison. Legally I've read that there are also provisions for the "tough on crime crowd"- no chance of parole if you are convicted of a "violent" crime.
The budgeting provisions in Article 36 essentially stipulate that nothing can be passed in the budget that would increase state debt. This was a welcome provision for Hungary's EU membership as well as the banks.
Articles 47-49 deal with State of Emergencies. Article 50 regards "preventive defense". The constitution draft closes with the following,
"We the representatives of the Parliament elected on April 25, 2010, recognizing our responsibility to God and people, hereby declare the first, integrated basic law of Hungary as set forth above."
I am sorry if I can not provide much of an 'unbiased' perspective to this- of course we would've seen the same restrictions regardless of who was in the stead, but still, this is shit. Then again, they are saying this is to be the Constitution of the 21st Century!
The constitution will come into effect on January 1st, 2012.