Is Schmitt’s impartiality a guarantee for democratic elections?
Thursday, 20 October 2011 09:53
According to the constitution, a judge cannot be a member of any political party; neither can he or she be part of any political activity. The judge is an independent individual who cannot be subjected to government instructions” – said Róbert Répássy in an interview on the official website of the government. However, several facts attest to the dubious impartiality of Pál Schmitt, President of the Republic. The former sportsman and diplomat sued to be member of Fidesz and, during that time, he filled several important positions. He served as vice president of his former party and ran for mayor of Budapest. He was also a member of the European Parliament and, later, he served as speaker of the Hungarian Parliament. Compared to his predecessors, the current president has yet to return a law to the parliament or the constitutional court, and he generally approves of all the awards given by the government. During Mr. Orbán’s second term, it has been a common practice to nominate people for nine years for important public offices. Major institutions, such as the State Audit Office of Hungary, the Office of the Chief Prosecutor, the Media Authority and the Constitutional Court are all led by members of the ruling party. Drastic steps have been taken to curtail the independence of the judiciary, which was explained to the public as an essential step towards greater transparency. One such step was the abolition of the National Council of Justice of Hungary, which could veto judicial nominations and cases. This development is a throwback to the period before 1997, when the justice minister oversaw the functioning of the judiciary. Other evidence of Mr. Orbán’s increasing dictatorial tendencies includes sending the judges into early retirement at the age of 62. The purpose of this decision, of course, is to get rid of senior judges who are considered to be troublemakers, i.e. too impartial for the taste of Fidesz. Had it not been for the staunch perseverance of the Ministry of Administration and Justice and for the disapproval of the US foreign minister, the judiciary would certainly have been entirely subjected to the interests of the governing party. But despite all the protests and misgivings of the profession, the restructuring of the judiciary will go ahead. The president of the newly established National Judicial Office can only be removed on pain of infringement, and he is nominated for nine years as well. The fate of the president of the Court of Appeal, which is to be called “Curia”, is still uncertain. It is plausible that Mr. András Baka will be removed from his post, and Mr. Schmitt will make recommendations as to who should fill his place.