The state of votes
Hungary, a democracy
Gát Ákos Bence|translated by: Gát Ákos Bence
Another one-party Constiution?
Nagy Eszter| translated by: Nagy Eszter
Gát Ákos Bence | translated by: Gát Ákos Bence | 2011. September 14. 15:39
After decades of delayed development, Hungary recovers itself. It finally completed its democratic transition process, which lasted for over twenty years. The Hungarian Parliament approved a new Constitution substituting the antiquated Constitution marked by a communist past.
The constitutional process that is currently being developed in Hungary isn’t only necessary, but also legitimate.
The Hungarian Constitution in force today dates back to 1949, year in which the antidemocratic communist regime was installed. Although from the amendments made in 1989 – during the shift of regimes – the Constitution could pass as democratic, it contains some deficiencies, which explain the need to elaborate a new fundamental law.
The Constitution, instead of symbolizing a rupture with the previous communist regime, embodies its continuation. Even though it is the result of negotiations between the communist sectors and opposition forces in 1989, it cannot be considered a strictly democratic commitment, since none of the political actors who participated in its elaboration had been democratically chosen. On the other hand, this defect was implicitly acknowledged at the time by the constituents, who believed the repealed version of the old fundamental law would be provisional, and considered it susceptible of being replaced in the future by a new Constitution, written by a democratic elected parliament. The elaboration of the new Constitution hasn’t been possible in the last two decades because, since the shift of political regime, no parliamentary majority has had two thirds of the House, and reaching a consensus on the subject-matter seemed impossible.
In the spring of 2010 the country witnessed a rare phenomenon in its history: voters conferred a two-third majority to Fidesz-KDNP, the center-right conservative party alliance. If a parliament which counts on this exceptional capacity doesn’t initiate the constitutional process, the interim Constitution will persist in the following decades.
Furthermore, the current Constitution doesn’t respond to Hungary’s 21st century needs. For example, it doesn’t declare rupture with the communist past. Nor does it define clearly the identity of the Hungarian Nation. This latter aspect is crucial, because since the Treaty of Trianon, which marked the end of the First World War, many millions of Hungarians find themselves outside Hungarian borders. Until today, the legal status of these Hungarians who live in neighboring countries remains undefined. The new Constitution would be a way to solve this problem once and for all, recognizing them as part of the Hungarian Nation. The new Constitution may also be used to resolve more practical issues. Hungary has run into a great debt due to previous governments’ thoughtless economic policies and is also undergoing a major crisis. In order to prevent similar future borrowing, the new Constitution should establish a limit for public debt, as does the Polish Constitution.
Lastly, the constitutional process is legitimized by a parliamentary majority which enjoyed an extraordinary popular support. This support is reflected not only on the results of voting intention polls, but also on the results of the 2010 spring legislative elections and fall municipal elections celebrated in the same year. At the same time, the opposition parties have had the possibility to participate in the constitutional process by submitting their proposals and amendments to the committees and during the parliamentary debates. If two of the three opposition parties have decided not to participate, it is either because they do not wish to cooperate or because they have chosen this strategy as a way to jeopardize the government.
Nagy Eszter | translated by: Nagy Eszter | 2011. September 14. 15:39
The government’s parliamentary majority approved a new Constitution without considering the opposition's remarks. Experts argue Hungarian democracy is in danger.
Hungary's new Constitution is questioned not only by the political opposition, but also by experts and labor unions. Is the Government Party's two-thirds parliamentary majority enough to legitimate the constitutional process? Was it really necessary to approve a new Constitution?
According to the old Constitution, in order to approve a new and organic law, a two-thirds parliamentary majority is required. Experts on the 1989 Constitution thought this majority could be formed solely with the opposition’s cooperation.
On the contrary: Hungary’s current Government alone achieves this majority that allows it to approve this law without the mentioned and necessary cooperation with the opposition groups. Better said: as the government majority itself has two-thirds of the Parliament, it means that it is the executive branch that effectively plays the Constitutional role rather than the legislative branch. All of this totally questions the Democratic State of Law, which consists of the separation of the three fundamental powers.
That is to say: this constitutional process and its result receive only a legal legitimacy but its political, social and overall moral legitimacy is absolutely questionable.
This scarce legitimacy (that is, legitimacy with faults) is emphasized by the events of the constitutional process since the left-winged parties had no participation in either the process itself or in the elaboration of the new Organic Law.
According to the Government these parties (MSZP, LMP) boycotted the constitutional process with a certain political irresponsibility but the parties themselves argued with the fact that during the law’s preparatory process and during the elaborative discussions the governmental majority disregarded the oppositions’ proposals. Therefore, they did not want to participate in either the preparation or in the approval of the Organic Law elaborated and approved by only one political power and governor.
The other parliamentary right-winged party, “Jobbik”, and Katalin Szili participated in this process but the latter voted against the approval of the law, considering it unacceptable in this way.
And not only the left-wing parties were excluded from the constitutional process: many labor unions also asserted that the Parliament elaborated the articles in the Constitution without consulting their opinion and decided on its approval in the same way.
The legitimacy is questioned on a social basis as well. Although required by the opposition and the labor unions: the Government did not call for a referendum on the subject because it was convinced of the urgency of a new Organic Law. They didn’t want to waste time.
The FIDESZ-KDMP party considers that giving citizens only one YES or NO question to decide on the matter would limit and simplify a very complicated problem and in this way would effectively take away peoples’ possibilities to express themselves. Therefore, all voting citizens received a fill-in form, a poll on the new Constitution, but which did not include a question on the indubitable need of a new Organic Law, excluding, in this way, the possibility of a NO answer.
According to the Government, this type of national consultation is much more democratic than a referendum due to the possibility of a citizen participating in person in the law’s elaborative process.
The Constituent Committee tried to make their democratism felt, thereby removing from the proposition, after the poll’s results, the original article (among other articles) according to which, mothers with underage kids benefitted from a plus-vote.
The opposition and the experts had already been criticizing this article long before the poll’s results and the negative response from the people wasn’t surprising at all.
The poll on this subject-matter was so absurd in itself that it cannot be used to legitimize the new Constitution once, out of the 8 million poll letters sent; only 1 million was filled in and returned. Not even the method used for data elaboration was transparent and its results didn’t imply any obligations on Parliament as would have been the case with results from a referendum.
With the old Constitution, Hungary operated democratically for twenty years although it should have been an interim Constitution and should have undergone renovations. Despite all that, criticism refers mainly to the legitimacy and not to the need of a new Constitution. It is true that the 1989 Constitution was deficient in some very important regulations for today’s context and would deserve to have been complemented. However, in order for the Constitution to be approved and generate a feeling of ownership in Hungarian citizens, it would need a more extensive legitimacy, which would imply cooperation between Government, opposition parties and labor unions.
Gát Ákos Bence|translated by: Gát Ákos Bence
Nagy Eszter| translated by: Nagy Eszter
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