Ideological and Power Battles Amid Pandemic: 9th Constitutional Amendment in Hungary

Kaulbach,_Wilhelm_von_-_battle-of-salamis_-_1868
Wilhelm von Kaulbach:: The Battle of Salamis // Public domain

The pandemic can rule the agenda, but it cannot rule the ideology. This is the main lesson of the past few days in Hungary. The government has introduced restrictions and a crisis management plan, and it got the authorization for it. This is right and necessary1. However, PM Viktor Orbán began writing the new chapter of the Hungarian ideological-cultural war in the meantime.

On the 10th of November, the Hungarian parliament voted to allow the government to rule by decree, for the second time in 2020, due to the pandemic.

However, there was two major difference from the spring vote: on the one hand, the government had modified the text of the bill, and the special legal order was regulated for 90 days. This had been the major complaint of the opposition in March.

Thus, the oppositional MPs voted the bill as well, so the bill passed with a four-fifth majority, which means that it entered into force on the 11th of November2. Still, the prime minister did not stop there.

The Hungarian constitution entered into force in 2012, but there have been eight modifications to it since. That is a relatively big number, especially if we consider that the Fidesz-KDNP (the ruling parties) have been having a supermajority in the parliament since 2010 (except between 2015 and 2018).

Furthermore, the constitution’s cavalry now continues with the ninth amendment3 and a new election law4. Nevertheless, what are these critical issues that cannot wait till the end of the pandemic?

“The father is a man; the mother is a woman” Deal with it!

The first package of the amendment meant to reflect the recent ideological battles in the country. As you may know, since August, there has been a new radical right movement against the LGBTQ community: radical politicians (from the far-right party, Our Homeland “Mi Hazánk”) stole LGBTQ flags, and they shredded storybooks with LGBTQ protagonists5.

The government has not responded to these actions…yet. Now, the Hungarian constitution will contain that “the father is a man, the mother is a woman.”

Moreover, it also states that “Hungary protects children’s right to self-identify according to their gender of birth and ensures education following the values based on Hungary’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.”

It does not change too much for the first look because we already have a family definition in the constitution with the same meaning. However, from now, the government could ban books from educational institutes.

It is also clear now that the government takes absolute control over adoption with the amendment and with a new bill6 which states that people who are not married (they can be in cohabitation, singles, or member of the LGBTQ community, who cannot marry in Hungary7) will not be able to adopt a child without the consent of Katalin Novák (Minister for Families).

The government stated that the defense of our identity is one of the most important things in these times, and it is closely related to the pandemic. However, they did not explain how it will help stop the infection or stabilize the economy.

Nevertheless, it is another bad day for the members of the LGBTQ community who have got one step further from equality, and for the children who have to stay in public orphanages.

It Lost Its Public Money Nature8

The second part of the amendment raises further concerns about the rule of law in Hungary. The new part of the constitution defines “Public money”: “Public money is the revenue, expenditure, and receivables of the state.”

This definition excludes many institutions that may give rise to corruption and abuse, such as public foundations, public subsidiaries, or public companies.

In Hungary, there were some examples for these types of “not so traceable, grey-zone expenditures” where, for example, the Hungarian National Bank could not account for its money what it had invested to one of its foundations9.

However, it does not have to do it because it is not public property anymore. The public money will lose its “public” nature at the very moment when the state transfers to a public foundation.

Furthermore, the opposition will not be able to terminate these foundations later, even after a possible regime change, because such foundations’ legal status has been enshrined in two-thirds law.

Think About Tomorrow Today

In parallel with the amendments, the government submits a modification to the election law as well10. With this modification, only those parties can set national lists (and gain a huge amount of central financing), who can field at least 50 individual candidates in 106 FPTP constituency11.

Before the modification, this number was only 27 out of 106. (To field one individual candidate, you have to collect 500 signatures in your constituency.). After the first discussion in the Parliament, at the suggestion of János Volner, the radical right, independent MP, the bill has been changed: a party has to field at least 71 individual candidates, which is more than the two-third of all constituencies.

There are two main problems with this modification: its justification and its impact on opposition cooperation.

Ms. Judit Varga (Minister of Justice, who submitted the bill) said that12 the main reason for this modification is to prevent the start-up of the so-called “fake-parties,” who just want to get the central financing without real social support.

Moreover, this is a real political issue in Hungary: in 2018, fake parties embezzled more than 7.3 million EUR13 from the state14.

So, the problem is real… but the solution is useless: the main problem with the electoral system is that one person can sign any number of notation sheets. Number of the signatures does not represent the actual social support of the parties, as people can sign to every party, regardless of whether they know them.

If anything, the modification causes only a little difficulty to the fake parties, because these parties try to field candidates in every constituency for the larger central subsidy.

Nevertheless, the new regulation will have a huge impact on the coordination between the opposition parties. Until now, the number of opposition national lists has been one of the main questions. There was an argument for a single opposition list and two oppositional lists as well.

Momentum (RE) and Jobbik (NI)15 were thinking about a second list to separate the old and new generation.

From now, with the new regulation, they have to set up one united national list, to have a real chance at the election. This could be an advantage for the opposition, but it is clear that there are some divisive politicians for whom some voters will not go to vote in 2022.

There is still much time until the national election (about 1.5 years), so the opposition still has the time to manage the situation, but the new law will narrow its options.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Furthermore, this is just one chapter from a very thick book. These are just the two most important modifications that the Hungarian government submitted to the parliament at the same day, when the parliament granted extraordinary power to the government because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

However, we can see that the ideological war and the power centralization will continue in the next months. With a new bill, PM Orbán wants to terminate the Equal Treatment Authority and integrate its jurisdictions to the Ombudsman.16

Moreover, they have to redraw a constituency in Pest county due to population growth, which allows gerrymandering; however, Mr. Gergely Gulyás, the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office said that the government would not redraw it without the opposition parties.

The opposition still has the chance to win the national elections in 2022: half of the voters still support them17, which is a good starting point, a year and a half before the election.

However, they have to be more focused and determined. From now, they cannot make mistakes; the parties have to cooperate and decide the technique of the primaries as soon as possible, because Fidesz will be able to win this election (fourth time in a row) if the opposition does not give an alternative with clear visionary and spotless candidates to the citizens.

Moreover, the hard work will only come after the election victory…


1 http://abouthungary.hu/blog/pm-orban-announces-new-restrictions-aimed-at-slowing-the-spread-of-the-coronavirus-heres-a-complete-list/

2 https://telex.hu/belfold/2020/11/10/parlament-rendkivuli-ules

3 https://www.parlament.hu/irom41/13647/13647.pdf

4 https://telex.hu/belfold/2020/11/11/varga-judit-valasztasi-torveny-modositas

5 https://budapestpride.hu/hirek/igy-dolgozik-duro-dora-a-fidesz-tamogatasaval

6 https://telex.hu/belfold/2020/11/10/a-jovoben-nem-fogadhatnanak-orokbe-az-egyedulallok-magyarorszagon

7 Because of a legal blunder, there is ONE legally married trans-couple in Hungary

8 A Hungarian meme, it originally used by a politician from Fidesz to avoid sharing some public property information in 2016

9 https://444.hu/2016/04/21/ezt-a-birodalmat-akarta-eldugni-elolunk-matolcsy

10 The following elements are not in the constitution, but they require 2/3 majorities as well

11 The Hungarian electoral system is mixed; it consists of 106 FPTP seats and 93 seats from a national list, a compensatory and proportionality element.

12 https://telex.hu/belfold/2020/11/11/varga-judit-valasztasi-torveny-modositas

13 https://444.hu/2019/02/06/osszesen-26-milliarddal-tartoznak-a-kamupartok-ebbol-eddig-8169-nyolcezeregyszazhatvankilenc-forintot-sikerult-behajtani-toluk

14 They should have paid the money back because they had not reached 1% in the elections.

15 https://nepszava.hu/3062270_torespontta-valhat-a-kozos-lista

16 https://telex.hu/belfold/2020/11/09/megszuntetne-az-egyenlo-banasmod-hatosagot-a-fidesz-kdnp

Zsolt Nagy
Republikon Institute