Hungary has a new constitution, effective 1 January 2012. It may not be an exaggeration to say that it represents an authoritarian turn in the country’s institutional framework.
There are numerous troubling provisions, but Jan-Werner Mueller, writing at The Guardian‘s Comment is Free, emphasizes what I would take to be some of the worst features:
[F]irst, a comprehensive weakening of checks and balances – notably a much enfeebled new constitutional court – and the fact that the new constitution will be virtually impossible to amend, while much legislation, notably budgets, can only be passed with a two-third majorities. Second, the systematic staffing of the judiciary and other nominally independent agencies with Fidesz appointees for exceptionally long periods.
What is the result? Fidesz’s nationalist vision has potentially been enshrined forever: even if the party loses future elections, its appointees will keep exercising power, while the party itself will in all likelihood retain considerable influence, since no other political grouping is likely to muster a two-thirds majority. Any potential leftwing government will be highly constrained; its budget could be vetoed by the (Fidesz-staffed) budgetary council, upon which the (Fidesz-appointed) president can dissolve parliament.
Currently, and unusually for either Hungary or other European countries, the ruling party, Fidesz, has a two-thirds majority. This has enabled it to pass a constitution without need to take into account opposition preferences. Yet, as Mueller notes, the constitution increases the range of legislation that requires two thirds votes to enact. In other words, this constitution is the work of a single party, which has put in provisions that will allow its representatives in parliament to veto many future policy changes as long as Fidesz retains at least one third of the seats.
It is worth noting how Fidesz got this two-thirds majority: it was manufactured out of a narrow simple majority of votes cast. The Hungarian electoral system, which some sources continue erroneously to classify as mixed-member proportional (MMP), made this possible. I have noted before why calling it MMP is wrong, in terms of the mechanics of the system. The results of the April, 2010, election, show just how disproportional the system can be: Fidesz won 263 of the 386 seats on 52.7% of the party-list votes (and 53.5% of the nominal votes).
Proportional systems do not turn 53% into 68%. But excessively majoritarian systems can facilitate democracies turning in to autocracies.