The end of constitutional limits in Hungary

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Worrisome that a member of the EU can slide back into authoritarianism.

That’s not all. The long arm of the current Fidesz government can grab and shake any foreseeable future government through the officials they are now putting into place. The new constitutional order extends the terms of office for the public prosecutor (9 years), the head of the state audit office (12 years), the head of the national judicial office (9 years), the head of the media board (9 years), the head of the budget council (6 years) and more. Each of these positions has been filled with Fidesz party loyalists who will be able to conduct public investigations, intimidate the media, press criminal charges and continue to pack the courts long after the government’s current term is over. Moreover, unless there is a two-thirds vote to replace these new office holders, they can stay in office until such a two-thirds vote can be achieved, which could extend these long terms of office even further.

How do all of these pieces work together? One example will illustrate. The constitution creates a national budget council with the power to veto any future budget that adds to the national debt, which any foreseeable budget will do. The members of the budget council have been chosen by this government for terms of 6 or 12 years and can only be replaced if two-thirds of the parliament can agree on new candidates when their terms are over. Another part of the constitution requires the parliament to pass a budget by March 31 of each year. If the parliament fails to do so, the president of the country can dissolve the parliament and call new elections. When these pieces are put together, the constraints on any future government are clear. A new government will pass a budget – but that budget can be vetoed by Fidesz loyalists so that the budget deadline is missed, and then the president (also named by Fidesz) will call new elections. And this can be repeated until an acceptable government is voted back into power.

The only parties that might replace Fidesz in the current Hungarian landscape are the Socialist Party or, in a real nightmare scenario, the far-right Jobbik. Under laws that preceded Fidesz’s election last year, political parties that are anti-constitutional may be banned. Some have suggested that Fidesz could eliminate Jobbik in this way. In fact, Europe probably would not mind if Jobbik were excluded from public life because other European countries can ban extremist parties also. But what about Fidesz’s primary competition – the Socialists?

According to a proposed constitutional amendment, the crimes of the former communist party will be listed in the constitution and the statute of limitations for prosecuting crimes committed during the communist period will be lifted. The former communist party is branded a criminal organization and the current opposition Socialist Party is designated as their legal successor. It is still unclear, legally speaking, what this amendment means. But it is probably not good for the major opposition party.

The Fidesz government has accomplished this constitutional revolution by legal means after a democratic election. But though Fidesz was democratically elected and has accomplished this program through constitutional change, Hungary is not a constitutional democracy. Instead Hungary is, as Paul Krugman said, sliding into authoritarianism.

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