The new constitution and the 4/5 requirement

From time to time, radical left wingers or propagandists come up with the so-called “four fifths rule” regarding the Hungarian constitution. They claim that adopting a new constitution required a four fifths majority in the Hungarian Parliament. They add that Fidesz abolished this provision with its two-thirds majority, because that is the limit for modifying the constitution.

It’s easy to see the holes in their original claim: if a provision says that 80 percent of MPs are required, while the provision itself can be abolished by a lesser vote, than it’s not a real binding requirement of 80%, such a provision only has symbolic power to begin with.

But there are bigger problems with this claim, because it is based on the lie that there was such a 4/5 requirement to adopt a new constitution in power at the time. There was a provision about the parliamentary ruling deciding “rules and preparation” in connection with a proposed new constitution, but not the constitution itself. This original rule was adopted in 1995 but it was also repealed in 1998, when the mandate of the 1994 Parliament came to an end. It is worth to note that MSZP-SZDSZ held a two-thirds majority in this Parliament. To examine the issue closer, we have to look up the original amendment to the constitution. Fortunately all Hungarian laws are available online

1995. évi XLIV. törvény

a Magyar Köztársaság Alkotmányáról szóló, többször módosított 1949. évi XX. törvény módosításáról1

1. § Az Alkotmány 24. §-a a következő új (5) bekezdéssel egészül ki:

„(5) Az új alkotmány előkészítésének részletes szabályairól szóló országgyűlési határozat elfogadásához az országgyűlési képviselők négyötödének szavazata szükséges.”

2. § E törvény a kihirdetését követő 3. napon lép hatályba, és az 1994-ben megválasztott Országgyűlés megbízatásának megszűnésekor hatályát veszti.

Which translates as the following:

Law XLIV of 1995:

About the modification of the Constitution of the Republic of Hungary, the 1949. XXth law*:

1. under 24§ paragraph (5) the constitution is amended with:

“(5) To establish the rules and procedures for the preparation of a new constitution, the parliamentary ruling shall require the four fifths of members of Parliament”.

2. This law shall take effect on the third day after it’s enactment, and it is repealed when the Parliament elected in 1994 loses its mandate.

*Note the year of the constitution from 1949, when Hungary was occupied by the USSR and Stalin personally watched over the direction of state affairs.  The text, written by Mátyás Rákosi was almost a carbon copy of the Soviet communist constitution

So as we clearly see the original law had a suicide clause. One of it’s two paragraphs are about being repealed “when the Parliament elected in 1994 loses it’s mandate”. That Parliament’s mandate came to an end when the 4 year term  was up, that is in 1998, almost 14 years ago. So it had nothing to do with the new constitution.

But more importantly if there were an actual 4/5 rule about adopting a new constitution what would have been the actual result of it? Fidesz-KDNP with their two-thirds majority in Parliament could already modify the old constitution.  What this means is they could easily take the present text and instead of submitting it as a new constitution simply modify the old one to have the exact same text!

The only difference between the two is preserving or discarding the original numbering, the 1949 XXth law.  For communist fanatics, preserving the original numbering could be important, but it has no relevance as to the actual contents of the constitution.

So arguments about the 4/5 rule are not only based on a lie, even if they were actually true, their result would have been exhausted in preserving the original 1949 date.

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