The three-member committee in charge of drafting a new Hungarian constitution has presented its first draft to president Pal Schmitt this week. The document remains controversial as all but one opposition party (the radical ‘Jobbik’) refused to take part in the drafting procedure.
The full draft is not yet available to the public but leaked parts have already attracted criticism from opposition politicians, civil society representatives and several experts. Already the changed preamble (now called ‘national testament’) is a thorn in the side of constitutional scholars – expressing a preference for christianity it contradicts other provisions guaranteeing religious freedom and cultural diversity. The constitution will not allow the constitutional court to review laws in the area of the budget and finances unless they violate basic human rights (a curtailing of powers that has already been made by the way of an ordinary law a few months ago) and will replace the current ombudsman system in a way that related matters will be under control of one (probably government-appointed) person. The cycle of municipal will be lengthened from 4 to 5 years and local governments will have to have the approval of the government to take up loans. As expected, the new constitution will reflect the right-wing/conservative orientation of the government and contain many references to Hungarian language and culture. Furthermore, it will define marriage to be only between a man and a woman and many deputies of the governing Fidesz have pressed for an inclusion of provisions forbidding human cloning and abortion.
The ‘iPad-constitution’ (a nickname given to it by its critics as the members of the drafting committee repeatedly praised the tablet computer and claimed to have written major parts of the draft on it – amongst others while travelling by train) tries to break several historical ties while re-establishing others. The name of the country will officially be changed from ‘Republic of Hungary’ to just ‘Hungary’ underlining the government’s longing for the ‘good old time’ of the Hungarian monarchy and the centrality of the legacy of the 1956 uprising against the Soviet occupation. As the text is only available in fragments, it is not clear how well-crafted the constitution actually is. Until now, however, the question whether Hungary actually needs a new constitution has still not been answered sufficiently. The current constitution has proven to be working relatively well even though – and Fidesz representatives do not seem to get tired of repeating it – it was initially planned as a purely transitional document and still contains references to this throughout the text. The same applies to the German ‘Basic Law’ – but even after German reunification nobody saw the need to draft a completely new constitution. Especially in comparison with the German case where a strong and independent constitutional court has put the government in its place not only once is it worrying that the new constitution might open the door for a further curtailing of the powers of the Hungarian constitutional court.
The government has announced that it plans to adopt the constitution before Easter – even for a well-drafted document, this would not be enough time to discuss, review and amend the draft so that it is accepted by all political parties. It only stresses that the new constitution is as provisional and hastily drafted as the first one – just that nobody knows whether it will work as good as its predecessor.