Radical right-wing Jobbik has released a confidential government proposal to modify Hungary’s constitution so as to enable the government to rule by decree for sixty days after declaring a terrorism-related state of emergency.
Hungary’s Department of Defense proposes that the Fundamental Law be modified for the sixth time since its adoption in 2011 so as to empower the government to declare a state of emergency “in the event of significant terror threat or in the case of a terrorist attack” and to “introduce extraordinary measures”.
After declaring a terrorism-related state of emergency, the government would have the right to “suspend the application of certain laws, deviate from certain legal provisions, and take other extraordinary measures” without consulting any other branch of government. The state of emergency would remain in force for sixty days. Extending it, however, would require the approval of a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
During this time the government would “inform continuously the President of the Republic and the National Assembly standing committees” having “relevant responsibilities and powers about the measures taken in the time of a terror threat situation”.
The confidential proposal further stipulates that “the Hungarian Defense Force may be used” if “police and national security agencies are not enough”.
Experts familiar with the proposal tell the Beacon that it would give the government the following powers in the case of a state of emergency based on terrorism:
• The authority to restrict public gatherings and assemblies;
• The authority to seize and restrict use of property and equipment belonging to radio, television and other mass communication broadcasters;
• The authority to seize and operate the use of property and equipment belonging to radio, television and other mass communication broadcasters;
• The authority to suspend, limit, shut down, control, supervise or take over postal services, communication services, telecommunication services, information technology networks and electronic communication services;
• The authority to restrict transportation on public roads, railroads, waterways or in the air;
• The authority to restrict use of or take over docks, airports and warehouses;
•The authority to limit or completely restrict entry into Hungary by foreigners;
• The authority to restrict access to or communication with foreign individuals, organizations and institutions;
• The authority to force non-Hungarian citizens residing in Hungary to appear before authorities and the authority to restrict their travel within the country;
• The authority to bypass governmental budgetary rules, reappropriate funds, suspend funding for already-designated funds, make payments that are not expressly permitted in the law governing the national budget and come up with new fines.
“Unlimited power in peacetime”
Hungary’s Fundamental Law stipulates that a state of emergency can be declared in the event of war, domestic upheavals (such as riots), a preventative national defense situation and a state of emergency based on some kind of natural disaster.
As in the case of the latter, the proposal provides for the government to declare a terrorism-related state of emergency without consulting either parliament or the Constitutional Court.
Constitutional expert Csaba Tordai told the Beacon that no other state of emergency grants the government such sweeping power to restrict the rights of Hungarian citizens.
Constitutional lawyerLászló Majtényi told the Beacon that “it’s always dangerous when certain groups try to use a new legal pretext to create a new legal environment”. He points out that the proposal neither defines what constitutes a risk of terrorism nor requires the government to consult with other branches of government as to whether a perceived threat justifies invoking a state of emergency. For this reason “we cannot rule out any political abuse of power”, Majtényi says.
Other critics of the proposal include former finance minister and Movement for a Modern Hungary (MoMa) chairman Lajos Bokros and constitutional lawyer György Kolláth, who believe it grants the government unlimited power in peacetime. They point out that invoking a state of emergency by referring to a terrorism threat would enable the government to shut down the internet, close borders and limit a wide range of constitutional freedoms.
They are planning a demonstration in the Kossuth tér for Sunday, January 24.
No blank check
According to Jobbik spokesperson Ádám Mirkóczki, although Jobbik agrees with the need for a terrorism-based state of emergency, it does not agree with the powers the government is proposing to give itself. The Jobbik spokesman accused Fidesz of playing on people’s fears and naivity. “We are not going to give the government a blank check,” he said.
Mirkóczki said the proposal contains numerous provisions that have nothing to do with addressing terrorism, and its provisions with regard to commercial television and radio evoke “the darkest days of dictatorship”. He rejects Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s claim that the government is asking for emergency powers comparable to those of other countries.
The Jobbik spokesman asked the government to regard the opposition as partners, at least in matters of national security, and to submit a “correct bill”. He said Jobbik had proposed multiple changes and insists all of them be incorporated as a condition for support, including decreasing the period of the state of emergency from 60 to 30 days.