May 16, 2013

I. Background

Since Hungary held its first democratic elections in 1990 its government has been formed by a variety of parties across the political spectrum from the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) to the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) and the center-right Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). In 2004 Hungary joined the European Union. A coalition government led by the MSZP won elections in 2006.

The current ruling party Fidesz – the Hungarian Civic Party – is a conservative political party that first came to power in 1998, and despite losing elections in 2002 and 2006, gained much popularity in municipal and European Parliament elections. In the 2010 elections, together with its small coalition partner, the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), Fidesz won 52.7  percent of the vote, allowing it to secure 263 (227 for Fidesz and 36 for KDNP) out of 386 seats (68 percent) in the Hungarian parliament.  This gave it a super majority of more than two-thirds of the seats. Fidesz is headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.  The party is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), a center-right European political party and the largest party in the European Parliament.

The MSZP is the main opposition party with 59 seats in parliament.  The third largest party currently in Hungary is Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary, 47 seats in parliament). Jobbik is a far-right nationalist party with a political leadership that frequently makes anti-Roma and anti-Semitic statements.

Since its election victory in 2010, the ruling Fidesz party has used its supermajority in Hungary’s unicameral parliament to make major changes to the constitution and other laws in ways that weaken legal checks on its authority, interfere with media freedom, and otherwise undermine human rights protection in the country. It has adopted 648 laws, including a new constitution, referred to as the Fundamental Law, and several related cardinal laws. The new constitution and cardinal laws entered into force in January 2012 and have been amended several times since. It has generally done so without adequate consultation with civil society or time for proper parliamentary debate and scrutiny.

In March 2013 the new constitution was again amended by parliament through the adoption of the Fourth Amendment. In addition to the areas addressed by this report, the constitutional amendments and other legal changes also extend the statute of limitations for communist-era crimes, restrict political advertising, limit the autonomy of universities, and require students who received government grants for university study to work in Hungary for a designated period of time.

The large number of laws adopted by the ruling party with its supermajority in parliament has triggered serious criticism both domestically and internationally, particularly by the EU and Council of Europe. Since the adoption of the Fourth Amendment in March 2013, EU institutions have mounted their pressure on Hungary to comply with EU law and Council of Europe legal standards.