“Is it a dictatorship and a police state yet?” Scheppele and Halmai on current Hungarian constitutional politics

Ever since the sweeping election victory of Victor Orbán’s FIDESZ party in 2010, there has been an international controversy about the developments in Hungary’s political landscape. In most cases, the reception given to the political initiatives of the Orbán government and its parliamentary super-majority (the current coalition controls over two thirds of the legislature) have been extremely negative. Most attention focused on a new media law and on the new constitution (see here, here, and here; for a more positive commentary, see here). The ruling majority had drafted and passed this constitution in a controversial process that was, for many observers, far from transparent and inclusive. More than that – the new Constitution changed the balance of power structure by weakening the Constitutional Court while at the same making sure that institutions with government-appointed heads (like the Media Authority) or the so-called “cardinal laws” (see a critical and a positive assessment) would be safe from potential future opposition-led (simple) majorities. Criticism came from all quarters: the media, governments, scholars, and international organizations such as the Council of Europe. The European Union initiated infringement procedures which led to the modification of the disputed laws.

Common to most reactions was a concern over the direction Hungary’s democracy and legal system is taking. However, as some observers (for example the German-language blog Hungarian Voice) have pointed out, some of the reactions, in particular parts of the media echo, contained exaggerated or even factually incorrect statements. This has made it easier for the government to reject even legitimate criticism of its policies as biased or as a campaign of the previous Socialist government and its alleged international left-wing supporters ...

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