Hungary's Parliament to vote on changes to constitution

2013-03-11 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Hungary's parliament is to vote Monday on constitutional changes that critics claim will turn the nation into a dictatorship. The lengthy amendment of an already controversial constitution is expected to be adopted, despite protests in Hungary and abroad.

"A real constitution, democracy and the rule of law" shouted thousands of Hungarians over the weekend in Budapest, where they rallied to protest the planned fourth amendment since the constitution took effect in January 2012.

Demonstrators said lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's right-wing Fidesz party want to strengthen his government's power over all key institutions ranging from the media, the judiciary and universities to the central bank and even churches.

The changes would reinstate policies struck down by the Constitutional Court, including restricting election campaigning to only state media and forcing university students who accepted state scholarships to work in Hungary for years after they graduate.

Additionally, rights activists fear the end of religious freedom as faith groups need parliamentary approval to be recognized as churches. Among the requirements is their collaboration with the state.

COURT OBJECTIONS


The Constitutional Court's objections will be rendered invalid.

Philosopher and writer Miklós Tamás Gáspár suggested to demonstrators that Hungary will be turned into a dictatorship.

He said, "This constitution violates people's rights and freedom. Is this the government for the people?"

Earlier protesters climbed over the fence of the ruling party's headquarters where an activist warned the amended constitution would also target the most vulnerable people, including the homeless.

"The constitution will say that homelessness is a crime. But we think they should fight against poverty not against the poor people," he said, referring to plans to jail or fine them.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN


The European Union and the United States share the protesters concerns.

In a phone call Friday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged the prime minister to ensure the constitution, or Fundamental Law as it is known in Hungary, is "in accordance with EU democratic principles."

Yet, the fraction leader of the ruling Fidesz party, Antal Rogán, rejected international criticism.

"We can not accept pressure politics. It is impossible to imagine that outsiders from abroad dictate what Parliament has to do," he added. "Parliament is a sovereign institution with accountability only to the voters."

Yet, many of them apparently wonder whether the government they elected will respect their previously constitutional rights, with opinion polls showing a decline in support for Fidesz.

NEUTRALIZING CHALLENGERS

There is little the opposition can do as Orbán already neutralized domestic challengers by putting allies in the media council, the state audit office, the central bank and other organizations.

Commentators have said that the 49-year-old Orbán's repeated attempts to concentrate power and carry out what he calls his "revolution in a voting booth" seem at odds with his past.

Once known as an anti-communist dissident, he entered the political stage in 1989 by publicly calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary and the end of the Communist dictatorship.

Orbán has defended his policies, saying they are aimed at overcoming the legacy of Communism.

His government claims it also protects Hungarian families in this heavily Catholic country, by recognizing marriage in the constitution as a "union of a man and a woman."


Listen to Stefan Bos' report: