A hollowed out National Assembly, a year on
May 02. 2023. – 12:06 PM
"The mandate from the electorate is clear, the task is sizable and superhuman effort is needed for success", János Áder said at the inaugural session of the National Assembly last year, on 2 May. Less than a month after Fidesz's fourth two-thirds victory, the new parliamentary term began with all MPs except Ákos Hadházy taking the oath of office, and the outgoing President once again recommending Viktor Orbán as Prime Minister.
In the April 2022 election, Fidesz-KDNP won a comfortable parliamentary majority, with 134 MPs, as well as Imre Ritter, MP for the German national minority voting with the governing parties every time. The Mi Hazánk faction has also supported several government proposals over the past year. This way, there's no need for Máté Kocsis (Fidesz' faction leader) to do maths at all: even if someone falls ill, they can still pass two-thirds laws, even with two absences, and the government indeed does pass them as if they were being produced on the assembly line.
Over the past year, Orbán's illiberal theatre has continued where it left off before the election: the parliament has met every week, and although the opposition can speak there, rarely does any meaningful debate take place. The government's bills are always passed by Fidesz MPs, while opposition motions are often blocked at the committee stage. No parliamentary committee initiated by the opposition has been set up and Fidesz MPs do not attend the extraordinary sessions and debate days called by the opposition.
A few weeks after the Parliament was formed, the "granite-solid" Fundamental Law was amended for the tenth time: a state of danger due to war was introduced, allowing the government to continue to govern by decree even following the epidemic, this time citing the Russian-Ukrainian war as a reason.
In short: the National Assembly is now only being used as a communication tool and to maintain the appearance of democracy.
The 2023 budget, for example, was rewritten by the government via decree in December, but was presented to parliament at the beginning of the year, only to be ratified by the governing majority at the end of March, a quarter of a year after it came into force.
The tax law was modified in 27 hours, while Sweden's NATO membership vote has been pending for more than 7000 hours
But what really showed how hollowed out the National Assembly has become, was the adoption of the tax law modification. Last July, a form of paying taxes which was extremely popular among small business-owners was effectively eradicated within 27 hours by a single amendment, which limited the use of this form of taxation to those who bill private individuals. Even though the change affected the work and lives of more than 300,000 people, the National Assembly adopted the proposal without any public consultation or debate, amid protests and bridge closures.
The proposal was submitted at 12 noon on 11 July and voted on at 15:14 the next day.
How the decision-making process works is illustrated by the fact that no studies or plans were published before the vote to justify the need for the change. It took 242 days for the Ministry of Finance to respond to Telex's public interest data request, (citing the state of war), and it revealed that there was no evidence of the mass fraud the government had cited as the reason for the change.
It took only twenty minutes more for an equally high-profile law to be pushed through. The proposal to abolish the mandatory membership requirement of the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) and severely curtail its powers was tabled at 11:30 on 27 February and was passed by the governing majority just minutes after 3pm on 28 February.
However, not all proposals were so urgent for Fidesz-KDNP. Last July, the government submitted to Parliament the ratification of Sweden and Finland's accession to NATO, but for various reasons, the two bills were not put on the agenda in the autumn.
Then, before the spring session, Fidesz faction leader Máté Kocsis said that the proposal had been the subject of a debate within the governing party's parliamentary group, despite Viktor Orbán's pleas for MPs to support it. A parliamentary delegation led by Csaba Hende then traveled to the two countries to settle the disputes, but even this only brought the approval of Finland's accession to NATO at the end of March.
The National Assembly's decision on Sweden's accession to NATO has been pending for 292 days, and according to the May session schedule, there will be no vote on the proposal for the next month.
Since 2010 it has been rare for the vote on a law or an amendment to be delayed for so long. Only five times did László Kövér wait longer with placing a proposal on the agenda than with the ratification of Sweden's accession to NATO. The record is held by an Iran-Hungary investment agreement, which the government submitted to Parliament in December 2018 but it was not voted on until December 2021.
There is no point in calling an extraordinary session, but Fidesz doesn't block obstructions either
The government's proposals are automatically included in the agenda, i.e. they are put before the National Assembly, if the House committee – or in the absence of consensus, House Speaker László Kövér – places them there. However, whether or not to put a parliamentary motion on the agenda is first decided on in the parliamentary committees.
No matter how important or elaborate the opposition MPs' proposals, the governing majority has repeatedly voted them down without debate or justification over the past year, just as in the previous three terms.
When we raised this issue with Minister of the PM’s Office Gergely Gulyás at the government briefing in early April in the context of the Schadl-Völner case, the minister said it was regrettable that parliamentary debates where MPs at least had the opportunity to convince each other had disappeared. He did acknowledge that public life had become this way sometime after 2010, but said the opposition was at least as responsible for this as Fidesz.
"I don't think that the governing parties have a bigger responsibility in this than the opposition, because meaningful debate would require that arguments be responded to with arguments, and this ceased to be the case in Hungarian public life a very long time ago," the minister said.
The shortest plenary session lasted just 42 minutes on 20 February. Opposition MPs had called for an extraordinary session on the case of the battery factories, but government MPs didn't show up, having issued a statement just a few hours before the sitting indicating that they would only be willing to debate the issue at the next regular session. After the speeches that preceded the agenda, there was no quorum and the sitting had to be adjourned.
The scenario was similar during the summer break, at the beginning of August, when the six opposition parties called for an extraordinary session on the modified tax law and five other proposals: the agenda could not be adopted due to the absence of Fidesz MPs, and the session ended after 43 minutes.
Twice, however, the opposition managed to achieve a marathon debate by filibustering.
The longest session lasted more than a day, a total of 27 hours and 5 minutes.
The 26 October debate on the amendment to the social law, nicknamed "Lex you'll croke", could not be closed due to the continuous speeches of opposition MPs. From the governing parties' side, Bence Rétvári and Lőrinc Nacsa reacted to the speeches, mostly by saying that former PM (now leader of the Democratic Coalition or DK) Ferenc Gyurcsány was to blame for and behind everything.
However, neither the obstruction nor the arguments of the opposition prevented the Fidesz MPs from approving the proposal later without hesitation. The same was the case when the reform of the healthcare system was debated in Parliament last November. That session lasted more than 24 hours, after which all government MPs voted in favor without exception.
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