The beginning of the end? A subjective assessment of the political situation in Hungary

January 6, 2012


The end of democracy as we know it

Hungary’s new Fundamental Law  (which was adopted without a referendum or the support of parties in opposition, and attracted criticism from the Council of Europe , the European Parliament  and the United States ) came into force on the 1st of January 2012. Although the text itself (which I already analyzed in a separate article ) is scary enough, the government had last minute surprises. In the last week of 2011 members of the ruling coalition – despite warnings from their fellow MPs  and the country’s international partners – passed a number of bills which break the pillars of the liberal democratic edifice, erected just two decades ago to replace an authoritarian system of rule. Fidesz passed an electoral law which may prevent the current opposition from obtaining a majority in parliament even if it commands significantly more than 50% of the popular vote . However, the ruling party has also prepared the ground for a scenario in which it would be forced into opposition by cementing its flagship economic policy, the flat tax – which, by the way, has already failed  – into the so-called stability law which can only be changed with a two-thirds majority. This anti-democratic piece of legislation will tie the hands of all future governments which do not command a supermajority. If this were not enough, the ruling coalition has also parachuted loyal foot soldiers into the last independent state institution (the National Bank), threatening to wrest total control from its “rogue” president whom Fidesz accuses of acting against the interests of the nation. Orbán’s followers did not forget the icing on the wonderful Christmas cake they were preparing for the leader who appears more and more to be running a one-man show. Through one stroke of the pen, the right-wing majority changed the Parliament’s law-enacting procedure, which will henceforth allow two-thirds of MPs to introduce amendments without debating them in parliament. This has effectively silenced an already cornered opposition, leaving it no other choice but to mobilize the (wo)man of the street.

Although for the Constitution’s architects the 2nd of January was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration – marked by a grandiose reception at the National Gallery and a gala concert in the National Opera – the cameras of state media outlets portrayed a tired and gloomy-looking Viktor Orbán whose words most probably stifled the excitement of the sons and daughters of the glorious “national revolution” born in the polling booths on 11 April 2010. Far from claiming victory, the Prime Minister told his followers that the revolution had only begun and that Europe and Hungary can only be saved if we are prepared to renew ourselves (by embracing the cultural heritage which underpinned our economic prosperity: the sanctity of marriage and family life, and the spiritual energies that bind person to person in the church of the national community).

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Kristóf Szombati is co-founder of the green party LMP (“Lehet Más a Politika“).