Der Untergang

Emergency powers, changing constitution, rewriting the election law… and a little bit of Covid

It has been a frantic 24 hours.

It has been a sad display. People, businesses, healthcare workers, hospitals, sport facilities, schools, universities, hotels and everyone else have been frantically trying to decode Orbán’s trickling Facebook revelations and TV and radio announcements about the coming lockdown over the last week. It should never happen like that, a restaurant should be able to plan whether they can open the next day and employees should be able to know if they have a job tomorrow, a student should be able to know on Tuesday if he is allowed to stay in his dormitory room on Wednesday, or whether he should look for an apartment he can’t afford in the first place. 

But the details were not announced until almost midnight the day before. Like a teasing celebrity Orbán kept dropping hints and new details – but the actual text of the decree was not published until half an hour before it entered into force. But then they got busy. 

Rather than working on the Covid-related closures and restrictions, the administration prepared 

  1. a change in the constitution,
  2. and a change in the election law. 

And submitted them one minute before the new 90-day emergency empowerment of Orbán began. In other words, before the 8PM curfew and the ban on protests started. 

The Covid-restrictions, in the meantime, are infuriatingly incomplete. But worry not, Orbán keeps announcing things (this time with full empowerment), like ordering the military to enforce the restrictions. 

This ought to have our full attention, but the really interesting developments of yesterday are the changes to the constitution and the election law. 

Without any deeper analysis and getting lost in discussing the communication flash bombs added for distraction, the new rules will 

  1. make the removal of public money legal, and
  2. make it (even) more difficult for the non-Orbánist parties to run at the next elections (in 2022) as a united opposition. 

Neither of these moves is surprising, only the timing and the way of submitting them has even less class than usual. 

Opposition parties’ chances of running together in order to remove Orbán has been seriously curtailed already. Ever since the municipal election defeat in October 2019, Orbán keeps coming up with new rules hindering the opposition. Why he needed to kick them right now deserves more attention than the details of this change – not least because there will be more changes to come as the elections approach, all to the same effect. 

Among the changes to the constitution there are attention-drawing flash bombs (chew toys, as we call them) that has to do with sex and gender and political Christianism, but they are only there to distract from the real reason Orbán made this unsavory move right now: to legalize the removal of public money from the public purse through so-called public foundations, a type of organization that has lately been increasingly used to siphon public money into OfFidesz entities. 

But that is still not surprising. Siphoning out public (and EU money) is the purpose of this system and has been taking place for a decade. The real news is the hurry and the timing. 

But we can’t protest, we don’t even know where to wear a mask, where to put our children, where to buy supplies, how the government plans to help SMEs, if at all. We are busy reading the incomplete rules of the lockdown and still try to second-guess what they mean. 


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