The powers of the president and speaker of the Hungarian parliament, Laszlo Kover will be greatly enhanced if draft legislation submitted on Tuesday is passed. Among other things the new law would require all parliamentary representatives to stand when the speaker enters the floor “out of respect for Hungarian voters”. The same rule applies for the prime minister. The law would also give the speaker the authority to decide who may enter the Parliament’s premises and the offices of members of parliament.
Since taking over from Pal Schmidt in 2010, Kover has presided over the Hungarian parliament with an iron fist handing out numerous fines, docking MP pay, and depriving opposition MPs of their speaking privileges. At one point last year Kover ordered that Jobbik staff and experts be locked out after Jobbik MPs protested the distribution of state grounds to large companies and wealthy individuals (including numerous Fidesz supporters) often at the expense of local farmers during a parliamentary session.
The maintenance of decorum during parliamentary sessions has been a recurring problem for the Fidesz-KDNP majority parliament. The new house rules are meant to provide a more rigid structure for parliamentary sessions.
Among the president’s enhanced powers is a rule that grants him the authority to decide who may enter the parliament’s premises and the offices of the representatives. Those who are granted permission may only enter the premises if they agree to accept conditions as outlined by a code of conduct.
The draft legislation also bans the use of graphic displays during presentations without a committee’s prior approval.
In December 2011 while delivering a speech about Fidesz attempts to Gerrymander electoral districts, former LMP MP Gergely Karacsony was cut off by the assembly’s deputy speaker, Istvan Jakab, for using a scatterplot diagram and told to stop using “political marketing tools” because it “offends the dignity of the assembly”.
LMP leader Andras Schiffer criticized the deputy speaker’s decision by lamenting the fact that the house rules committee got to decide what methods of communication MPs can use besides verbal communication.
The use of audio recordings will also be restricted from parliamentary sessions.
During parliamentary debate over the controversial 2011 media law, Elod Novak (Jobbik) tried to play a recording made by a reporter who had called the Fidesz press office to inquire about the illegal gathering of information by party director Gabor Kubatov (Fidesz). The recording revealed that the Fidesz press office employee promptly hung up on the reporter. Deputy Speaker Istvan Jakab immediately cut off the recording and demanded its contents be redacted from the session minutes.
A recurring criticism of Hungary’s legislative process since 2010 has been the process and timing related to the introduction, debate, and adoption of legislation (often with last minute modifications fundamentally altering the legislation that are never debated). Tuesday’s bill, submitted by the ruling parties, seems to address these issues. Under the current parliament it has not been uncommon to debate bills on Monday submitted the previous Friday.
A controversial bill regarding the potential development of one of Budapest’s main parks submitted by a Fidesz MP on Sunday was added to the agenda on Monday, entered the general debate stage on Tuesday, and had its specifics debated on Wednesday.
The new rules require that a period of five days pass before a draft bill can be voted on for debate, meaning at least six days must pass between the time draft legislation is submitted and the time it enters the floor for debate. The new rules also state that the general debate of a draft bill must end the week after it enters the floor for debate.
The new assembly rules would also prevent the attachment of unrelated riders to bills. At the beginning of 2011 the Fidesz-KDNP controlled parliament modified parliamentary rules so as to make it possible for a bill’s author, committee, or the committee for constitutional affairs to add whatever rider they deemed desirable.
Although clearly intended to redress some of the concerns expressed by the European Union about the legislative process under the current government, critics argue that even with these changes the pace and process for adopting new legislation is far too hasty.
Proposed changes do nothing to prevent political parties from abusing the right of individual MPs to introduce pieces of legislation without first soliciting and obtaining independent third party opinion or consulting with independent experts and NGOs. The current Fidesz-KDNP controlled parliament has routinely side-stepped this important vetting process by having individual majority member MPs introduce legislation which, under previous parliaments, would have been submitted by parties only at the end of a long vetting process.
Nor will it render the parliamentary majority more receptive to the recommendations of the minority. To date only one opposition proposal to modify a bill has been accepted by parliament prior to its adoption (although many laws were subsequently modified to include language along the lines of what had been proposed by opposition MPs).
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