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Hungarian democracy is facing yet another challenge

Hungary’s new constitution, approved by Parliament in April, continues to draw much criticism from European institutions and domestic opposition parties, who continuously raise questions about sliding democratic standards of the ruling Fidesz party.

The Venice Commission, upon reviewing the constitution, has expressed serious concerns regarding its content. The main area of criticism is its constant mention of cardinal law, which requires a qualified majority of two-thirds of the parliament to be overturned. The Commission has pointed out the fact that many of the clauses of the constitution address issues that, albeit important, do not constitute fundamental rights and, therefore, should not be included in the constitution, let alone be under cardinal law. For example, according to the Commission, socio-economic regulations in such fields as culture, religion and moral ethics should not require a two-thirds majority in the parliament to be modified.

The constitution, passed by the ruling Fidesz party, will make it close to impossible for future governments to challenge different clauses as it is would be difficult to gain a two-third majority support. In fact, only the Fidesz party voted in favor of the new constitutional text, 262 to 44 votes. Opposition parties either left the room as a sign of protest or voted against it. Lack of negotiations and dialogue with the opposition parties has also been highlighted by the Commission as one of the weaknesses of the process.

The Fidesz party, led by János Lázár, overwhelmingly dominates the parliament, which makes it easy for it to pass many controversial laws. For example, the constitution takes a strong pro-life stance, despite the fact that 60% of the Hungarian population are in favor of legalized abortions. The constitutional court has lost much of its power on budget and tax regulations, while the president would now be allowed to dissolve the parliament if it fails to approve a budget. Such lack of power separation is one of the major concerns of the international community.

Hungary has been receiving much negative feedback on its democratic step-backs since the beginning of the year, when the parliament passed a controversial media law that drew thousands of protesters in front of the parliament building in January. Earlier this month, thousands of protesters, mainly fire-fighters and armed forces, expressed their discontent with Fidesz’s move to eliminate early retirement as part of its debt reduction plan.