The deconstruction of the rule of law in Hungary

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his party, having secured a two-thirds majority at the last general election, are gradually deconstructing the rule of law. Fidesz has put their own party associates in independent institutions, and has brought the free press under state control. Transparency and civil rights are being seriously eroded. Apart from these measures, a new constitution was also implemented. Here is a short summary of the anti-democratic nature of the new constitution.
1. Regulations, by which the constitutional judges are nominated, have changed. As a result of the two-thirds majority, it falls within the purview of the governing party to nominate constitutional judges. It is on the basis of this new legislation that a former minister for prime ministerial affairs could have secured a seat in the ranks of the judges.
2. By dint of an amendment, the National Election Committee (OVB) was stripped of its authority of presiding over the legality of elections and referenda. New members of the Committee were chosen from amongst people with very close ties to the government.
3. By introducing a new media law, the institution of the free press and its scrutinising role have suffered a severe setback. The newly established Media Committee consists entirely of Fidesz members and has wide-ranging powers, including the conducting of investigations. Its president is a former Fidesz MP and current member of the ruling party. The Hungarian State Television (MTV) is dominated by faces well–known from within the Fidesz media empire. Also, a new concept was introduced in the field of news communication, as a result of which both TV and radio channels are compelled to broadcast the same news.
4. The president of the Hungarian Republic is the former vice president and MP of Fidesz. After his assumption of office he declared his intention of not wanting to be an impediment to the introduction of any upcoming legislation. So far, he has not used his presidential powers to veto any legislation.
5. The traditionally respected and independent institution, The National Audit Office (ÁSZ), also has a new president in the person of a current Fidesz MP, who was nominated for the job for a period of 12 years.
6. The Office of the Public Prosecution, which by constitutional law should be independent, is led by its former director, who is also a member of the governing party. The period of his mandate was raised from six to nine years. Also, members of parliament lost their right to ask questions directly from the public prosecutor during sessions.
7. With the fusion of regional administrative bodies a new system of Regional Governmental Offices were introduced. The leaders of the now defunct regional administrative bodies were independent civil servants, as opposed to the current Regional Governmental Offices, the leaders of which are overwhelmingly members and current Fidesz MPs.
8. Leaders of the Committee for Public Procurement (KT) and the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZÁF) have also close connections with the present government.
9. Despite protests coming from the European Central Bank, the remuneration of the governor of the Hungarian Central Bank, which is acting independently from the administration, was reduced. Also, regulations concerning the election of members of the Monetary Council of the Hungarian Central Bank were altered. As a result, members sitting in the Monetary Council are associated with the government. The leader of the Supervisory Committee of the Hungarian Central Bank is a former finance minister in the previous Orbán administration.
10. The authorization of the independent Budgetary Committee, with its own team of experts, was withdrawn. Instead a new three-member committee has been established with no proven expertise. Two of its members have close ties to the government, while the mandate of the third member will run out in 2013.
11. The united body of the police forces has been disrupted, and the hugely expensive Counter-Terrorism Centre (TEK) was established. The primary task of TEK is the protection of the prime minister and the president. As a result of a new legislation, the direction of the police and security forces will fall within the purview of the minister of interior.
12. A legislation securing the possibility of imminent dismissal without justification was introduced. Although the Constitutional Court rescinded the legislation, hundreds of civil servants were discharged unconstitutionally.
13. Under a new regulation, government officials, who are not willing to allow having their activities observed by security services, could be discharged. A so-called Confidentiality Screening was introduced, within the frames of which ethical and social requirements raised by the security services, would be controlled.
14. The constitution was amended more than 10 times in less than a year. The overwhelming majority of these amendments precipitated the erosion of the constitutional system of checks and balances.
15. The transparency of the declarations of property of leading state companies and leaders has been severely restricted.
16. A penalising tax, going back for 5 years, with a tax-bracket of 98%, was introduced in the public sector. Its supposed function was to penalise and to keep in check illegal allowances and benefits acquired by members of the previous administration. Although the legislation was squashed by the Constitutional Court, the government responded by restricting the purview of the Court concerning the levying of penalising taxes.
17. In matters concerning tax and budgetary affairs, the purview of the Constitutional Court has been severely restricted.
18. Legislating according to individual needs has become more prevalent. It means that, in the personal interest of a politician belonging to the governing party, laws were changed, and in one instance, the constitution was amended.
19. The practice of public procurement without competition has become prevalent.
20. Regulations concerning campaign activities and elections have been changed. With the reduction of the time needed for nomination and with increasing the number needed for nomination, Fidesz made it next to impossible for nominees to get elected. Just before the 2010 regional elections, they have completely redrawn the map by altering the boundaries of individual constituencies.
21. The political testament of Fidesz is enshrined in a document called the “Declaration of National Cooperation”. The manifesto calls the previous twenty years a period of disorderly transition, and says that the 2010 election was, in fact, a revolution in the polling booth. This document must be on display in every public institution.
22. Concerning the judgement of criminal cases, the purview of the courts has been restricted. The “three strikes principle” was introduced, which has an adverse effect on repeated offenders. Criminal procedures have become more prevalent, while the possibility of a jail sentence can now include minors as well.
23. A new legislation was created concerning the issue of the 2006 anti-government protests. Certain aspects of the legislation, especially those which brought evidence against violent protesters, were annulled.
24. The universal right to strike was restricted and the system of social conversation was muted.
25. In cases of emergency, as an extraordinary measure, the government has now the right to nationalize private firms and economic organizations.
26. The system of obligatory private pension funds was abolished, while the money deposited, around HUF 3 000 billion, was nationalised by subsequent government measures.
After a brief constitutional process, the government voted for the implementation of a new constitution, which will take effect from the 1st of January 2012. The democratic opposition did not participate in the constitutional process, and, since the constitution was not ratified by a referendum, it is only due to the votes of the ruling party that the new constitution could have taken effect.
  The main provisions of the new, single-party constitution:
1. The term “constitution” will be abolished. Instead, the word “basic law” will be used.
2. The traditional Preamble will be replaced by a “National Credo” that would emphasize the nation-building role of Christianity and the uniqueness of the Hungarian language. Also, the “National Credo” would define faith, fidelity and love as the bases for our mutual sense of belonging together. Similarly, the “National Credo” holds the “historical constitution” and the “Holy Crown” in great respect.
3. The designation “Republic of Hungary” first used after the fall of communism will be abolished, and the simple term of “Hungary” will take its place.
4. The institution of market economy does not feature in the basic law. Neither do the two well-known formulae of protection of private and public property.
5. As opposed to the present constitution, the basic law declares the HUF to be the official currency of Hungary, making the process of introducing the euro more troublesome.
6. The basic law declares that the institution of marriage can only exist between man and woman. It does not recognise same-sex marriages.
7. The basic law declares that the Constitutional Court and other courts need to respect and maintain the principles of a sustainable and transparent budgetary economy. The legislation restricts the purview of the free court and has an adverse effect on the constitutional system of checks and balances.
8. The basic law declares that every person has to take responsibility for him or herself and that every person, according to his or her abilities, has an obligation towards the state. It says nothing about the responsibility of the state towards its citizens. The wording of this legislation is fairly similar to that of the Stalinist constitution, which was abolished after the fall of communism.
9. The new basic law should be interpreted in consonance with the “historical constitution”, which goes back to the Middle Ages.
10. The basic law widens the powers of state organizations that are entitled to implement new legislations. It does not declare retrospectively the prohibition of negative legislations.
11. The basic law would protect the life of the foetus from its conception, making a huge step towards an even stricter abortion law.
12. The basic law would constitutionally introduce the concept of “effective life imprisonment”, which in many European countries falls into the category of inhuman maltreatment and torture.
13. There is not a single word about discrimination based on sexual orientation.
14. The basic law reserves the right to restrict the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court and to limit the number of those people who are entitled to a preliminary constitutional review. The right to elect the leader of the Constitutional Court, so far being under the purview of the constitutional judges, now falls to the parliament. By making the preliminary constitutional review general, the role of the Constitutional Court will be reduced to that of a parliamentary advisory body. The number of the constitutional judges would be raised from the present 9 to 12 members, making it possible for the governing party to nominate four more judges.
15. The threshold for a valid referendum has been raised, and the issues on which referenda could be held have been severely restricted. The institution of referenda based on the free expression of ideas has been abolished.
16. In the event of a government change, the next administration would be entrapped by the overwhelming majority of laws based on two-thirds majority. These laws include regulations on family protection, tax and pension system.
17. A further constitutional trap for the next government is the Budget Committee. Established by the present majority, this body has the right to veto all decisions made by the parliament concerning budgetary affairs.
18. The basic law does not mention the National Judiciary Council (OIT), which is supposed to take decisions regarding the organizational affairs of the courts. This will make the practice of judicial self-government impossible, while it also ensures that the government will appoint leaders of the judiciary. Also, the age limit of practising judges will be lowered from the present 70 years of age to 62, thereby terminating the employment of hundreds of judges. The Supreme Court will be renamed to the rather archaic sounding High Court of Justice, the leader of which will see his tenure extended from the present 6 to 9 years.
19. The role of the ombudsman responsible for the protection of national and ethnic minorities will be abolished, and so will be that of the parliamentary commissioner responsible for future generations.
20. In cases of emergency, infringement upon basic and fundamental rights would be practised more freely.
21. The basic law only provides for the protection of the Hungarian language. It does not mention the language of national minorities.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11