The betrayed republic. Hungary’s new Constitution and the “System of National Cooperation”

May 3, 2011

This is the second piece of a series of articles in which the author Kristóf Szombati intends to lift the veil on significant social, political and cultural transformations since the right-wing government came to power in Hungary. In what follows Szombati seeks to outline and interpret the most significant changes brought about by the new Constitution which the Fidesz-KDNP coalition has decided to bequeath to the country. The text is written from the perspective of a long-time member of the Hungarian green movement who co-founded the “Lehet Más a Politika” (LMP) party.

An imposed social order

Hungary’s right-wing coalition has set a negative European record by adopting a new Constitution on 18 April without either holding a referendum or obtaining the support of parties in opposition . This despite the fact that only 30% of Hungarians believe their country needs a brand new Constitution, while 57% would like to see it put to a referendum. Besides being unwilling to broaden the text’s legitimacy the Orbán government has also dictated a frenetic pace. All-in-all MPs have had five weeks to debate and propose amendments to the text (which will come into force on 1 January 2012) before voting on it – a lacuna which has led the Council of Europe’s so-called Venice Commission to criticize the process . Finally, the process also lacked transparency. A first draft produced under the supervision of the Christian Democrat László Salamon, Chairman of Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, was quietly discarded on demand of the Prime Minister who found it too sleazy and radical . Orbán, who can no longer be sure that the parliamentary vote on “his” text will be remembered as a glorious day in the country’s history, may also have sought to demonstrate openness by asking the opposition to table its own proposals. This was of course nothing more than another act of the political theater put on by Fidesz since he knew perfectly well that the opposition’s conditions for lifting its boycott (broader legitimacy, more time for meaningful consultation with the public , and the reinstatement of the Constitutional Court’s powers) had not been met by the government.

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