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(De)politicization of the Constitution? Trends in Constitutional Politics in Hungary from 1990 to 2018

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Constitutions
Democracy
Democratisation
Kálmán Pócza
University of Public Service
Kálmán Pócza
University of Public Service

Abstract

International media and even scientific literature have paid much attention to constitutional politics in Hungary since the first landslide victory of Viktor Orbán’s FIDESZ party at the general election in 2010. Although there is an ongoing debate on the profoundness of constitutional changes since then the new Fundamental Law of Hungary got undoubtedly into the center of (daily) political battles. At first glance, the general narrative of the political and constitutional developments are quite simple one: while the constitutional issues disappeared from political debates quite rapidly after the democratic transition, and latest after the failed constitution-making process between 1994 and 1997 rearrangement of the political system (by constitutional amendments or by adoption of new constitution) hasn’t been on the political agenda any more, in 2010 constitutional politics returned and, since then, it has played a prominent role in the Hungarian political life. To put it simply, this narrative claims that constitution had been depoliticized from 1990 to 2010 and repoliticized from 2010 to date. In my presentation I will challenge this general narrative and argue that constitutional politics and struggles around constitutional questions have always been part of the Hungarian political life. It has deep historical roots and imprints of this mentality have been discernible even after the democratic transformation process in 1989/1990. I will prove this thesis by giving a realistic definition to the term ‘constitution‘ and by showing that mentality of prodemocratic system opposition prevailed not only in historical periods of Hungary but also after 1990. Constitutions determine the basic rules of the political system. But what if, on a rhetorical level, opposition parties challenge the political system built up by their opponent in government position? What if system opposition became the dominant behavioral pattern after 1990? I will argue that the constitutional politics of the system opposition on a rhetorical level has actively prevented the Hungarian political system from turning into a consolidated democracy. This argument will imply that we have to revise the theoretical framework of democratic consolidation as presented by Merkel (1998; 2008). Furthermore, I will show also that political rhetoric and political activity might diverge fundamentally by presenting data of parliamentary voting behaviors which show surprising propensity to cooperation between political ‘enemies’. I will conclude that long standing tradition of constitutional politics understood as mentality of system opposition prevailed even after the democratic transformation in 1989/1990 and that the general narrative of depoliticization of constitutional issues between 1990 and 2010 could not be hold.