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Hungary’s new constitution

Ever since elected in the spring of 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán emphasized the need for a new basic statute and the need to officially part with decades of legacy defined by foreign occupation of Hungary.

The new constitution (or basic law, the official terminology has not yet been decided) differs from its predecessor mostly along the lines of value issues. The “preambulum”, the opening declaration of the bill, has been thoroughly revised and retiled “national testament” or “national declaration” to bear a Hungarian heading instead of a word with foreign origins. As expected, its passages clearly reflect the values of the reigning conservative government by highlighting Hungary’s roots in Christianity, its support of families and its respect to the legacy of the 1956 revolution against Soviet occupation and the Holy Crown as a symbol of national unity.

The “testament” also declares that Hungary does not accept the legal continuity of the 1949 constitution (amended multiple times over the decades and in no way resembling the original) which served as “the basis of a tyrannical rule”. Given how strongly the document aims to distance itself from the version currently in force, it is interesting to see how little the Fidesz-led government actually wants to change its contents.

Value judgments

Unsurprisingly, the leaked provisions that were most discussed in the media involve human rights and other value issues. The draft does indeed declare that marriage is between a man and a woman and also paves the way for a controversial Fidesz drive to give families with children extra votes at elections. It also contains changing the country’s official name to “Hungary” instead of “Republic of Hungary”, while pointing out the parent country’s responsibilities towards expatriated nationals living abroad due to border revisions following World War I.

Due to its reliance on the original text, it also points out Hungary’s respect towards ethnic, cultural and religious diversity and that it will enforce these rights. Constitutional scholars were quick to point out the controversy between this statement and the opening declaration’s clear preference for Christianity. On the same note, despite the reverence expressed for Christian religion and values, the text, like its predecessor, points out that in Hungary, state and church are fully separate and the clergy operates independently.

Core changes

Besides value matters, certain profound changes, ones that would impact the countries spending as well as its legal system, were also incorporated. The constitution would not allow the Constitutional Court to evaluate legislation on budget and tax matters unless they were challenged on grounds of basic human rights. It would also abolish the current ombudsman system and place all related maters under the control of a single person.

It would also introduce a revamp of the municipal election system, changing the current four-year term to five years. Municipal governments would also be held to a structure under which they would have to apply for state permission to apply for loans that could imp aril the balance of the treasury.

Spending restrictions would apply to the state as well, since the constitution would prescribe a debt cap, prohibiting reigning governments from taking out loans that would boost state debt to more than 50% of the previous year’s GDP.

Gestures, tidbits

The document also contains a handful of passages that are mainly gestures or interesting elements. It highlights sign language as a crucial part of national culture that the state is obliged to protect. It would also declare that human cloning is forbidden in Hungary.

It also points out that the country is firmly committed to focusing the advance of new technologies and solutions and making them accessible to the public. Some have interpreted the addition of this passage with Fidesz members’ repeatedly declared infatuation with tablet computers. Recently, party prominent Antal Rogán publicly praised his iPad as the tool that allows him to efficiently perform multiple duties. Head of the drafting panel József Szájer actually said that certain parts of the text were written on his Apple gadget while traveling on a train.