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PM vs ombudsman: checks and balances in operation?

August 15th, 2012

A leading columnist of the main pro-government daily argues that although many still look to the EU for political balance, checks and balances are actually functioning in Hungary.

Contesting accusations by “professional opponents” who claim that the government has practically got rid of democratic checks and balances, Matild Torkos, a leading political columnist at Magyar Nemzet enumerates recent examples where the government has come under criticism from Hungarian institutional actors – such as the ombudsman Máté Szabó and the head of the National Audit Office.

She remarks that Szabó, for one, is openly at loggerheads with the Prime Minister. In a clear reference to the parliamentary commissioner for basic rights, Mr Orbán told a conference of Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz that the new higher education act is under a „counter-revolutionary” attack. The ombudsman had in fact submitted the new public education act to the Constitutional Court for review. Ha also appealed to the Constitutional Court against the law regulating the benefits and labour market position of the handicapped. Torkos recalls that in addition, the parliamentary commissioner for basic rights spoke up in defence of diabetics, expressed his dissatisfaction with the new campaign financing plans and criticised the Media Council. Most recently, commenting on his university years and professors, the Prime Minister said Máté Szabó’s  ways and interests had been as „obscure” at the time as nowadays. He may be „obscure,” Matild Torkos comments, but he certainly is active and efficient and it was under the previous government that his office came under heavy criticism, not the present one.

As other examples of emerging political checks and balances, Torkos cites President János Áder, a former Fidesz MP, who „is not an engine of legislation” (an expression the recently resigned president Pál Schmitt applied to himself, see BudaPost, April 23) and the Constitutional Court where even judges suspected of pro-government sentiments „struck down unconstitutional laws” (See BudaPost July 24).  Finally, she quotes the recent criticism of next year’s draft budget by the National Audit Office, the president of which is a Fidesz appointee. Basically the Office stated the budget was unrealistic. These institutions, she concludes, are beginning to find their place in „the system of national co-operation” – that is the new institutional set-up introduced by the government since it won an overwhelming parliamentary majority in 2010.

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