Viktor Orbán is up to something and that something is nothing good

Index came out with it first. It seems that feelers are being put out, most likely indirectly by the prime minister’s office, about people’s opinion of changing the Hungarian governmental structure from a parliamentary to a semi-presidential system. The client who ordered the survey seems to be specifically interested in whom people would like to see in the post of president.

A few months ago Péter Hack, a former member of parliament and a constitutional lawyer, called the topic of Viktor Orbán as the next president “an evergreen subject” which has been around for at least twenty-five years. Indeed, the topic was hotly debated during the discussions of the opposition in 1989. If it had depended on MDF, a right of center party, the president would have been directly elected by the voters, and they even had their favorite candidate, former member of the Politburo Imre Pozsgay. Fidesz and SZDSZ managed to thwart that plan and Hungary remained a purely parliamentary system in which the president has little power and is elected by the parliament.

After the 1989-1990 debate no one brought up the desirability of changing the constitutional order until 2004 when István Stumpf talked about the advantages of such a system. Four years later in a television interview he specifically spoke of the possibility that Viktor Orbán could become president one day, but naturally only if “the presidency would be reinforced.” Surely, a mostly ceremonial role would not suit Viktor Orbán’s temperament and political ambitions.

As usual, Viktor Orbán changed his mind on the subject frequently. In the fall of 2009 he declared that he is a devotee of the parliamentary system, which has a long tradition in Hungary. Yet when in 2010, after the election, a preliminary committee was assembled to write a new constitution, a change to a semi-presidential system was envisaged. As you may recall, that preliminary constitutional draft was thrown out the window so to speak, and instead the final text was written by József Szájer on his iPad on the train between Budapest and Brussels.

So, in the new constitution that was adopted in 2011 there was no mention of enlarged presidential powers. Yet we know that Orbán preferred the semi-presidential system, as he made clear in a speech delivered in the same year. There was a simple reason he did not agree to the change in the constitution: the timing was not right. No wonder that he vetoed the text of the preliminary committee working on the constitution. Viktor Orbán is no fool. He certainly did not want the immediate introduction of a strong presidency over and above himself.

But the future was something else. In 2012 he gave an interview to the German Handelsblatt in which he praised the advantages of the semi-presidential system which “is more suited for the introduction of difficult reforms.” He added that he is a devotee  of democracy, but the question should be asked whether the management structures of democracy are best for periods of crisis.

It looks as if Orbán now finds the time ripe for making a move toward a presidential system. On May 21 Népszabadság reported that Orbán discussed the possibility of occupying the post of presidency after János Áder leaves in 2017. But he emphasized that he would do so only if the president had real power. As we know, under the present circumstances, changing the constitution and declaring the president head of the government as well as head of the state is a question of only a couple of hours of phony debate in parliament and the deed is done. For that matter, if Viktor Orbán decided to transform Hungary into a constitutional monarchy he would have no difficulty with his super majority of mindless followers.

Viktor Orbán's mask in the Institute for the Blind

Viktor Orbán’s mask in the Institute for the Blind

So, what is a semi-presidential system? There are several countries where such a governmental structure exists, but perhaps the best known is post-1958 France. In this system the government is not only responsible to parliament but also to the president. It is the president who appoints the prime minister, so he is the most important political player in the land. The president’s choice of prime minister, however, depends on the composition of the parliament. It can easily happen that the prime minister belongs to one party and the president to another. In this case they split responsibilities. Normally, the president is responsible for foreign policy and the prime minister for domestic policy. This “division of labor” is not spelled out in the constitution; it simply evolved this way. But often the system does not work. There can be bitter and tense stonewalling, depending on the attitudes of the two leaders and the ideologies of their parties. Just think what would happen if Viktor Orbán were president and Ferenc Gyurcsány prime minister.

How do we know that Viktor Orbán is seriously contemplating changing the constitution in order to move over to the Sándor palota, the office of the president? A few weeks ago ATV, the only television station that represents the views of the opposition, learned that Forsense Institute, a polling company that receives many government orders, conducted a survey on the Hungarian people’s attitudes on the subject. It was a telephone survey lasting about 10-15 minutes. On June 26 the station inquired whether such a survey had taken place. At that time Forsense denied the existence of such a poll. Yesterday, however, Forsense fessed up and admitted the existence of the survey to a journalist from Index. They refused to divulge the name of the client who ordered it, but they insisted that it was not the prime minister’s office. I tend to agree. Hungary’s prime minister is far too clever to get involved directly with such an enterprise. Most likely the job was “outsourced” to someone else.

What did the pollsters want to know? Index learned that the subjects were asked very specific questions. For example, what kind of a president they would prefer if they had a choice: Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, or Silvio Berlusconi? Whom would they prefer? Viktor Orbán, János Áder, László Sólyom, or Gordon Bajnai? They wanted their opinion on whether the president’s tenure should be seven or nine years. The pollsters were especially interested in people’s political and religious views: the subjects had to divulge for which party they voted at the national and the EP elections.

It is alarming that decisions might be made on the basis of such a survey. The Hungarian voters’ knowledge of politics is frighteningly limited. How many people know the differences between the German, the Russian, the American, or the Italian system of government? How can they decide?

But the most frightening part of this latest news is that Viktor Orbán seems to be contemplating a radical change in Hungary’s constitutional order and placing himself, most likely for nine years, at the head of the government hierarchy. More than scary.


  1. And there’s little doubt that the feeble-minded, ethically-challenged, Hungarian society will cheer
    monstrously at the striding little puppet, as he assumes his new, heroic, role.

  2. As effectively it is already a presidential system being run in Hungary, the real killer in such an initiative will not be the pro forma transition but the issue of term limits – how many cycles and how long each. Probably there would be a referendum held on the proposal in a way that fragments the dissenting votes as much as possible. One can just keep the fingers crossed that Hungarians cannot be duped into a 7- or 9-year cycle with the possibility of re-election.

  3. Already on May 22, the Köznapló blog lined out what could happen ( ):

    First, the constitution is amended so that the parliament will be able to elect a new president and the president will have power over the executive (cabinet) and a cycle of 9 years.

    Then, Viktor Orbán will be elected to that office.

    Further amendments to the constitution will then extend the power of the president, making him a Regent like Horthy.

    Finally, the parliament is remodeled into a two-chamber system, in which the members of the “upper house” will be appointed directly by the president, and the upper house will have a veto right over all decisions of the (elected) lower house.

    I agree. In any case, this is scary.

  4. It’s scary and unbelievable!

    Does the EU have any say in this? Probably not …

    But could they do anything, informing Hungarians that they will check if Hungary is “still” a democracy following the basic rules like division of powers? A “Regent” type of system surely does not belong in that category.

  5. The plan is to suck as much money out of the EU as possible, and wait to be expelled, then change the system of government and attempt to form some sort of new East Bloc.

  6. “…attempt to form some sort of new East Bloc.”

    Hungary will become the ‘arrow-head’ of the Russian move into Eastern Europe (Moldavia/Romania/Hungary) and then down into the (Orthodox) Balkan peninsula…while, slowly but surely, they will take the Ukraine and regain the Baltic states–the march of Putin Gloria.

  7. London Calling!

    President Thug does have a certain ring to it though!



  8. off: i guess ‘the Jews’ are in the same situation (aka terminal decline) as the Hungarian Left is in. The latest news is that Mazsihisz just elected as general manager the former banker (we all love Jewish bankers) Peter Kunos who spent several years in jail. That is after the news that the previous GM worked only a week, as it turned out quickly that he was both a transvestite singer and a catholic altar boy of sorts in the last couple of years.

    This ‘cabal of leftist Jews’ is being terminated by the smart Fideszniks. Next on the agenda is RTL Klub which is clearly becoming more ‘balanced’ in the last couple of days, I guess they received the ukaz from Luxemburg to be more polite. And then the Norwegians. The machinery is working and there is nobody stopping it, certainly not the well-fed Westerners or leftists (another item is that while Fidesz still has not finished gobbling up the entire Hungarian media scene, MSZP has given up on Népszabadság entirely, it cannot even bother to come up with ideas to do something with its partly owned struggling newspaper, which will be a weekly soon.)

  9. Csepeli, I think you mean Népszava, not Népszabadság.

    Mazsihisz is frankly a near irrelevance whoever runs it. It represents a few thousand people who define themselves as Jewish through religion. The vast majority of Hungarian Jews have Jewish roots but the religion is largely irrelevant to their lives.

  10. @Csepeli: Very sad indeed. I some way some of our shills who often visited this blog were right. Orban will rule and there is nothing that this blog, the EU or anyone and anything else can do about it.

    Hungary at this point is a great experiment at this point. Leave something organic in a Petri dish add some artificial microbe, and wait how it will turn out. Everyone at this point stand back, feeds the microbe, or let the microbe distort the organic material. They are waiting to see what comes out of it.

  11. I do think it is unlikely that Hungary would in any way be challenged by the EU Commission about a change in the structure of the government. Because so many components for German products are made in Hungary due to low wages it is unlikely that Hungary would want a full scale Eastern orientation to an economic block led by Russia. But stronger economic links to Russia seem very possible.

  12. Slightly OT: One of the most respected vinery in Tokaj may will be taken over by the government. Long story short, the land was leased for 99 years from Hungary by a French investor, who put tons of money into refilling the land with proper organize soil, and in general to restore the land to its quality by look and otherwise. With the the recent land laws, the Orban government annulled such leases and they are eyeing the property. (Do not forget that Tokaj is the area Orban family had(?) great financial interest in. The Orban family received huge subsidies from the Hungarian government to enhance their vinery there!) What is the current interest of the Orban family in Tokaj or if any deal made in Tokaj came with any promises tied to future “developments” are in murky waters.
    At any case the land leased by the French investors (with organic farming practices) are in the middle of a possible takeover by the government. What will happen after who knows. Most people only have suspicions.

    BG: It was established and admitted by Orban that he advised the company tied to his wife to apply for government subsidies but to make sure they will not receive the largest subsidy.

  13. In defiance of the ruling of the European Court, the Hungarian Parliament again refused to recognize the following churches and denominations:

    1. Reverend Ivanyi’s Evangelical Church, although it passed all of the Fidesz hurdles for recognition.

    2. Baha’i

    3. the two reform Jewish denominations

    4. six other churches.

  14. @tappanch, have you been able to review why the CPI is negative? Is this deflation due to the housing market?

  15. @LwiiH:

    maybe tappanch has more info, but here’s my opinion.

    I had already seen it here:

    It’s essentially due to cheaper food prices – while the year on year numbers are due to the “household energy savings”.

    We just returned from Germany and to me it seems that competition is becoming even fiercer between the supermarkets – there have been and still are a lot of price cuts: coffee, sugar, sausages, mineral water are some examples and of course the vegetables are getting cheaper with summer arriving, being produced locally.

  16. Csepeli,
    “And then the Norwegians”

    And…. what do you know about what is happening there?

    Reason why Lazar has gone very quiet on this?
    Reason why legal proceedings haven’t been taken against those NGOs refusing the regime’s *requests* to snoop?
    You need to be a bit better informed on that one.

    RTL is a completely apolitical capitalist organization who will do anything to keep making money.
    The Fidesz Mafia has threatened its money making and as a consequence RTL has made more than a few of Orban’s thugs nervous about what their next news item will be but in reality, democrats would be very foolish to rely on them to bring down the regime. The typical RTL viewer simply doesn’t care about what the regime gets up to as long as it doesn’t affect directly their everyday “pleasures”.

    Similarly, Mazsihisz is a complete and utter irrelevance in the bigger picture and it’s bizarre why you have decided to include it in your overall “summary”.

    “This ‘cabal of leftist Jews’ is being terminated by the smart Fideszniks.”

    On the contrary, if there was such a thing as a “smart Fidesznik”, they would realize that the smart thing would be to realize that any truly successful authoritarian regime sees that allowing ineffectual opposition to continue to exist is the key to maintaining power.

    Why bother stamping over mickey-mouse opposition radio stations and media that nobody listens to or reads anyway?
    Why physically intimidate small NGOs and charities when they are zero-squared threat to the regime?
    Why attempt to close down a commercial TV station whose previous news broadcasts where the very definition of neutral banaility.
    Why turn against the Oligarchs who are the very basis of your regime?

    The answer is that Orban and his alleged “smart Fideszniks” are insecurely paranoid to the point of starting to create the roots of their own destruction.

Comments are closed.