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Liberal commentators attack ‘Emergency State of Terror’ bill

January 25th, 2016

A former Socialist representative puts forward a ’personal conspiracy theory’ about Fidesz’s proposal on the planned ‘Emergency State of Terror’ constitutional amendment, while a liberal commentator calls such laws hotbeds of dictatorship.

In Vasárnapi Hírek, editor Zoltán J. Gál, a former Socialist MP (who was also the spokesperson for Péter Medgyessy’s government from 2002 to 2004) spells out what he calls his own conspiracy theory about why Fidesz is insisting on a constitutional amendment that would give the government extra-powers in declaring an “Emergency state of terror”.

Earlier this week Jobbik MP Előd Novak revealed the full text of the proposal, which for some reason had been categorized as ‘confidential’ by Hungary’s Ministry of Defence (where the bill was formulated). If adopted, the government of the day could decide what constitutes a ‘threat’, and declare a state of terror-emergency for 60 days, during which it would have the right, among others, to order curfews, ban larger gatherings, limit and influence media content and deploy the army if police forces are deemed insufficient for the job. Jobbik, it turned out later this week, does not support the planned legislation in its current shape. Since the bill needs a 2/3 majority in Parliament to pass, Fidesz is now expected to enter talks with Jobbik on possible modifications. Jobbik suggests that the emergency should be declared by a super-majority of 4/5 of MPs rather than by the government. The Socialist Party has drafted a counter-proposal which would require a 2/3 majority in parliament to grant the government special powers. 

Vasárnapi Hírek’s columnist recalls that János Lázár, the Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister, explicitly mentioned events that took place last summer at the Keleti Railway Station in Budapest and at the Röszke border crossing as amounting to legitimate reasons to declare an emergency state of terror under the new law. He concludes that such an amendment would pose an extreme danger to democracy. Gál believes that both what he considers fear-mongering and the bill itself, only serve to create the correct atmosphere and pretext for bringing forward the next general election from 2018. An early election, he suggests, could prevent the birth of a viable opposition force to the current government. This might come about, he thinks, as European Union funding decreases, and more people become aware of what he sees as the country’s nonstop slide towards the periphery of Europe.

In Magyar Nemzet, György Pápay argues criticises the left-wing opposition parties’ strategy of boycotting debates on bills likes this constitutional amendment, or one on choosing new judges for the Constitutional Court, both of which require a 2/3 majority of Parliament. Such an approach simply enables Fidesz to portray the opposition as unwilling to protect the country against terrorism, he believes. Moreover, leaving empty seats at the Constitutional Court will play into Fidesz’ hands. Együtt and DK are thus actually sabotaging efforts to bring the government under tighter control, he writes.

In the print edition of HVG, László Majtényi, a constitutional lawyer who held high public office during the tenure of left-wing governments, and Bernadette Somody claim that such emergency laws are the breeding ground of dictatorships. It would be highly dangerous, they believe, to enable the government to declare a state of emergency whenever it wants. The possibility of a ‘classic’ state of emergency already exists in the Hungarian constitution for extraordinary events, while the new bill is designed to cope with unspecified terrorist threats. Thus, the authors argue, it would be impossible for the public to check, even with the benefit of hindsight, if the prerequisites were indeed there. Moreover, declaring an emergency would not require a 2/3 majority in Parliament, which in practice means the government could decide on its own whether to introduce it. Finally, Majtényi and Somody remind their readers that last summer a new kind of state of emergency was already codified into law in Hungary (although that did not require a change in the constitution because it gave no wide new powers to the executive), and the ‘state of crisis due to mass migration’ was duly declared in several counties of Hungary. It is a cause for alarm, the authors warn, that after several months it is still in effect in six counties today, though migrants are not present in the country anymore.

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