About 30,000 Hungarians have been protesting on Monday (photo, from nytimes.com) in Hungary’s capital Budapest against the country’s controversial new constitution that came into force on January 1st.
Last April, after winning a two-third majority in parliamentary elections, Hungary’s governing Fidesz party pushed the law through parliament, in defiance of criticism from Europe and the US.
This dispute has cast doubt over talks on a new financing agreement with the EU and IMF, which is seen as vital for market confidence in the country.
Over the past year organizations have staged protests, but this rally showed that various opposition parties and civil groups are united.
Several centre-left opposition parties joined in the protests. According to oppoments, the new constitution threatens democracy because it removes checks and balances which were set up in 1989, when Communism fell.
The protests were held near a gala event organised at the 19th-century opera house by the government in order to celebrate the new constitution.
While officials arrived for the event, protesters chanted slogans denouncing the centre-right prime minister Viktor Orban, and carried placards denouncing his “dictatorship”.
“Viktor Orban and his servants turned Hungary from a promising place to the darkest spot in Europe,” said Socialist MP Tibor Szanyi, quoted by AFP news agency.
Petr Konya of the Hungarian Solidarity Movement helped organize the demonstrations and told the cheering crowd that 2012 would be a year of hope.
“We want the rule of law back and we want the republic back,” Mr. Konya said. “Viktor Orban forgot that the power belongs to the people, it belongs to us, and we will get it back from them.”
Critics say that the new constitution tightens the government’s grip on the news media and the courts and dismantles democratic aspects of the judiciary. They also say that a measure, which was passed last month by the government, seriously weakened the independence of Hungary’s central bank.
Several aspects of the new constitution and accompanying laws have brought criticism.
One of them is the preamble committed to defending the intellectual and spiritual unity of the nation. Experts warned that it could create tensions.
Also the text includes social issues : the right of the unborn child, marriage between a man and a woman, and the definition of life sentences. According to critics those should be left to ethical debates within society.
Another issue in the new constitution for opponents is the rewriting of the electoral system, which they say favours Fidesz.
Fidesz argues that the new constitution, or basic law, improves the legal framework of life in the country and complete the transition from Communism that had stalled under previous governments.
“Despite political debates we think it is an important value that for the first time, a freely elected parliament created the Basic Law,” said Fidesz MP Gergely Gulyas – who co-wrote the new law and shepherded it through parliament – quoted by the Reuters news agency.
A December opinion poll showed that popular support for Fidesz has fallen to 18%, but it still leads the other parties.