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FOCUS

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Latest update : 2012-01-09

Hungary's new constitution raises concern

In Hungary, concerns are mounting over the possible abuse of power by Viktor Orban's conservative nationalist government. The country's new constitution has changed the electoral law and its members now hold nearly all positions of power in the country. Investors and the IMF have been largely scared off, which has Europe increasingly worried about Hungary defaulting on its debt.

In Hungary, Viktor Orban's conservative nationalist government has a huge majority in parliament: more than two thirds. But is it abusing that power? The country's new constitution, introduced on the first of January, has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Orban's Fidesz party has changed the electoral law and the way parliament operates and placed its people in virtually every possible instance of power in the country. The new constitution even removes the word Republic from the country's name.

Now Orban's popularity has shrunk and some liberal Hungarians are even starting to call him "the Viktator". But what's perhaps most worrying for the rest of Europe and the world are the economic implications. The new constitution's provisions for the Central Bank have scared off investors and the IMF - at a time when Hungary desperately needs a credit line to avoid defaulting on its debts.

Talks with the IMF and EU could prove protracted. Hungary's negotiator, Tamas Fellegi, has lately indicated that the government is prepared to compromise, but given Budapest's recent propensity for what the Americans call flip-flopping, he'll have his work cut out for him convincing his interlocutors that this time the Hungarians' word can be trusted.

At issue are the constitution's provisions concerning the Central Bank, which critics say effectively subordinate the latter to a new expanded monetary council.

That looks like an attempt by Viktor Orban to circumvent the bank's governor, Andras Simor, one of the few people in positions of real power in today's Hungary with whom Orban is not always in agreement.

With the new constitution, Orban's Fidesz party has loyalists in charge of institutions that ought to provide checks and balances on governmental power, such as the constitutional court and the national media authority, whose members are appointed for nine-year terms - going well beyond the electoral cycle.

For over a year now, journalists in Hungary have been crying foul over the country's media laws - some even going on hunger strike.

Former anti-communist dissidents have joined the protest. "It's sad, and also disgusting", is Laszlo Rajk's comment on Viktor Orban's transformation from 1980s freedom fighter to power-hungry nationalist. Rajk is one of a number of veterans of the fight to bring democracy to Hungary who are now stepping up to defend it.

Following a huge and successful demonstration in Budapest on January 2nd, they plan to hold an opposition round table in order to come up with alternative proposals to put before Hungarians.

At the moment, many Hungarians don't know where to turn. The previous, Socialist-led government discredited itself through corruption and a famous case in which Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany was caught on tape admitting to having lied to the people. Now the Socialists have split, with Gyurcsany attempting a comeback under the moniker of Democratic Coalition.

That leaves Jobbik, the far-right party, as the second largest bloc in the Hungarian parliament.

In recent polls, nearly half of respondents said they simply didn't know who they could vote for in the event of elections.

By Gulliver CRAGG , Grégoire OZAN

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