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Government’s U-turn on Sunday shop closures

April 13th, 2016

Magyar Idők suggests Fidesz’s sudden shift on the shopping ban law is a show of the party’s commitment to democracy, while Népszabadság and Magyar Nemzet see more mundane reasons behind the decision.

The government says it is ditching the law because it has heard the voice of the people, but this explanation is false, Népszabadság declares in its front page editorial. The left-liberal paper argues that no change has occurred in public opposition to Sunday shop closures. Instead, the possibility of a referendum arose and the government regarded this as a political threat, Népszabadság writes.

In a surprise move, the government announced on Monday it would scrap the Sunday shop closure law, thereby thwarting a Socialist referendum initiative that aimed to abolish the ban. The law that requires all stores other than family run shops to be closed on Sundays came into effect only last March (see BudaPost December 9th, 2014) and seemed to belong to the cabinet’s core agenda – a position on which it would never compromise. But the law lacked popular support and has been hotly debated ever since. After many, often heated disputes (see BudaPost February 25th, 2016) and thanks to a decision by Hungary’s Supreme Court last Wednesday (see Budapost April 8th, 2016), the MSZP finally got the green light and was able to start collecting signatures for a referendum to revoke the law.

Magyar Nemzet suggests the Socialists should kiss the hands of the ‘burly men’ (who physically obstructed the MSZP’s representative from submitting the party’s referendum question, thereby causing a news media uproar  – See BudaPost February 25th, 2016). It was this outrageous behavior which gave a head start to the party’s initiative. It would be nice to write that Fidesz has finally succumbed to common sense on this question, Zsuzsa Körmendy, a leading publicist at the conservative paper laments, but that was not the real cause: the party only heeded its political instincts.

The government can eventually benefit from this decision,  pro-government Magyar Idők suggests in its editorial, because the withdrawal of the law shows it can backtrack when it should. According to the author of the commentary, Gergely Kiss, the government’s approach can be contrasted with the MSZP’s response in 2008 to a referendum when the Socialists went against the popular will and lost a lot. Fidesz on the other hand, Kiss argues, chose a different path and by doing so has both proven its commitment to democracy and taken the wind out of the sails of the opposition.