The Hungarian National Assembly
(a short introduction)
Hungary is an independent, democratic and constitutional state. Since the constitutional amendment of October 23, 1989 the Hungarian state is a republic, and the type of regime is parliamentary democracy. The government is responsible to the National Assembly and derives its powers from the majority of voters. Legislative power is exercised by the unicameral National Assembly consisting of 386 members. Members of the National Assembly are elected for four years.
The seat of the National Assembly is in Budapest along the Danube in the building of the Parliament constructed in 1902. The building is rightly regarded among the most beautiful parliament buildings of the world, a fact underpinned by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. However, important legislative work is carried out within the walls of the parliament. Therefore, beyond admiring the beauty of the building, it is worth gaining insight into the work of the House as the decisions taken and the laws passed here determine everyday life of Hungarian society.
The Hungarian electoral system (a so-called combined system) is one of the most complex systems in Europe. It seems however, that voters captured the essence of the system and applied it successfully during the past five general elections since 1990. There are 386 MPs elected to the National Assembly by direct, secret ballot based on universal and equal right of votes of the citizens every four years.
During elections every citizen receives two ballot-papers. A separate ballot-paper serves voting on single mandate constituency candidates and another one voting on regional lists. Candidates on the national list are not voted on directly by citizens. Here, division of mandates is calculated on the basis of a complicated compensation method. While the number of single constituency MPs is always 176, the number of MPs from the regional and the national list vary election to election, however, the total number always adds up to 210.
At the parliamentary elections held in 2014, five parties won mandates:
The mandate of the National Assembly commences with its constituent sitting. The constituent sitting is convened by the President of the Republic within a period of one month following the elections. The constituent sitting of the Parliament was called for 14 May 2010 following elections in April.
The role of the constituent sitting is to ensure basic personnel and organizational conditions for operation: it adopts the reports on the election, it examines and clears parliamentary mandates of the MPs who take the oath afterwards, and it is also here that officers of the National Assembly are elected. The National Assembly may at the constituent sitting form the standing committees of the House, however, this may also be postponed to a later date. (This is what actually happened in 1998 and 2006.) It is at the constituent sitting of the National Assembly that the President of the Republic makes his recommendation for the post of the Prime Minister. The mandate of the former Government terminates with the constituent sitting of the new Parliament, but the old Government remains in office as an interim Government until the new Government is formed.
Sittings of the National Assembly are chaired by the Speaker and Deputy Speakers assisted by the notaries of the House, all elected from among the MPs themselves. The Speaker has the most important role among the officers of the Parliament. It is the Speaker who ensures that respect, order and security of the National Assembly are kept and the work of the House is organised.
The main tasks of the Speaker are:
Speakers and deputy speakers of the Parliament 1990-
Deputy Speakers of the National Assembly
At its constituent sitting, the National assembly elected only two Deputy Speakers, while the others were elected at a later sitting.
The main tasks of the Deputy Speakers are:
Notaries of the National Assembly
The main tasks of the Notaries are:
Two notaries serve simultaneously at the plenary sessions; one representing the governing coalition, the other one representing the opposition.
(In other countries often referred to as the Presidency, the Bureau, the Committee of Wise Men or the Main Committee.)
Members of the House Committee:
Tasks of the House Committee are:
Operation of the House Committee
The House Committee holds weekly meetings; it passes its decisions by consensus. Voting rights are granted to faction leaders only. In case no consensus is reached, the Speaker of the National Assembly is entitled to make the decision (or make a proposal).
Standing committees and temporary committees assist the work of the National Assembly. The new Parliament established its committee system at its sitting 14 May 2010. The following table presents a list of the 20 standing committees.
The tasks of standing committees include debating and reporting on the introduced bills, as well as supervising the activities of the ministers. Committees meet on a weekly basis. Committee meetings are open to the press, but with regard to the nature of the agenda item discussed (e.g. issues concerning national security, national defence, or foreign policy) the committee may decide to sit in camera. Verbatim minutes are taken at the committee meetings which are also available on the web-site of the National Assembly.
In committees having special authority (e.g. the Committee on Immunity or the committees of inquiry) the principle of parity is applied, i.e. the committee includes an even number of members from the governing coalition and the opposition party/parties. On the other hand, in the majority of standing committees the principle of proportionality applies and committee membership is distributed in proportion with the parties' seats in the Parliament. Thus, MPs of the governing coalition are in majority in the committees.
The system of standing committees essentially follows the structure of the Government. The work of the committees is coordinated through the regular, weekly meetings of the committee chairpersons.
In addition to standing committees, the National Assembly may establish temporary committees (ad hoc committees and committees of inquiry) as well. The National Assembly is obliged to establish a committee of inquiry in case one-fifth of MPs propose so.
Ad hoc committees are set up to examine issues of current importance, while committees of inquiry are formed to examine a particular issue or question. Results of the work of both types of committees are presented in the form of a report submitted to the plenary that passes a resolution on the acceptance or rejection of the report following its general debate.
MPs of the National Assembly belonging to the same party form factions.
At the constituent sitting of the National Assembly the following 5 factions announced their formation:
At present, there are 5 factions in the Hungarian National Assembly.
Parliamentary factions and their leaders have a decisive role in a number of important aspects of parliamentary work. Among others this includes the nomination of officers and committee members of the Parliament, as well as elaboration of the agenda of plenary sessions. MPs participate in the work of the committees as delegates of the parliamentary factions.
Fundamental law declares the following: "The people shall exercise its power through its elected representatives or, in exceptional cases, in a direct manner. " [Paragraph (4) of Article B.] "Members of Parliament shall exercise their activities in the public interest. They may not be given orders as to their activities as Members of Parliament." [Standing Orders; Paragraph (1) of Article 13.]
In Hungary too, the basis of the legal status of Members of Parliament is the free mandate. Having been elected, Members of Parliament become legally independent of their electors, during their mandate they represent the whole nation. Therefore, they form their positions in accordance with their conscience and belief, and vote accordingly. As a consequence, they may not be revoked from office either as a result of their activities or their votes cast in their capacity of Members of Parliament.
In order to allow Members of Parliament to carry out their activities undisturbed, they enjoy a particular form of protection called parliamentary immunity. Parliamentary immunity has two forms: exemption from liability and inviolability. During the whole of his mandate and even afterwards, an MP shall not be liable for his declarations, speeches or votes cast during his work (exemption from liability). Members of Parliament may only be arrested if caught in flagrante delicto, and any kind of criminal procedure or misdemeanour proceeding can only be initiated with the prior consent of the National Assembly (that is, with suspension of their parliamentary immunity). The MP - with the exception of a misdemeanour proceeding - cannot legally disclaim his rights. The National Assembly may suspend immunity of an MP with the votes of two thirds of the MPs present.
The Act on the Legal Status of the Members of Parliament (with the exception of the rules on incompatibility) provides legal possibility for an MP to have an employment contract. However, the intensive commitment of MPs makes jobs requiring a fixed working time unfeasible to attend to. The MP must announce any form of employment relationship, his own undertaking, foundation, his participation and/or membership in any economic association, cooperative or public-utility undertaking as well as all income deriving from these activities to the Speaker of the House.
Similarly to other parliaments, law ensures the financial independence of Members of Parliament in Hungary by way of remuneration and reimbursement.
Act LV of 1990 provides for the Legal Status of Members of Parliament while Act LVI of 1990 for the remuneration, cost reimbursements and benefits of Members of Parliament, respectively. Both acts have been amended several times.
The two major functions of the National Assembly are legislation and the exercise of control over the Government. All tasks related to these functions are elaborated in Fundamental Law.
The most important tasks of the Parliament are:
The tasks of the National Assembly have continuously been enlarged since 1990. Today, we may enumerate some 400 tasks delegated to Parliament by the different legislative instruments.
are entitled to introduce a bill to Parliament.
Bills are debated in the following course:
Debate of the Bills alternates between plenary and committee sessions as is required according to the rules set out in the Standing Orders of the Parliament.
Each phase of the plenary debate is preceded by preparation at committee level. First, standing committees appointed by the Speaker of the National Assembly decide whether the bill is suitable for general debate. After the general debate, the committees deliver their opinion on the amendments submitted by the deputies; while following the detailed debate they give their opinion on associated amendments. If the committees consider it necessary, they may submit proposals for amendments themselves.
The Government, the committees and the MPs submit an average of 300 bills a year to the National Assembly. 55% of the proposed legislation was submitted by the Government, 40% by the MPs and 5% by the committees. The Government submitted approximately 90% of the bills eventually adopted. On average, the National Assembly passes 130 Acts a year.
Control over the Government
The other important and increasingly significant task of the National Assembly besides legislation is the control it exercises over the Government and government-managed public administration. This control function mainly focuses on assessing the feasibility of the legislators' intention and ensuring that the Government operates in accordance with the laws.
This control function of the Parliament derives powers from the principle of the political responsibility of the Government towards its Parliament. Government shall be responsible for its operation to the National Assembly and shall regularly report on its activities. It is the National Assembly that approved the government program simultaneously with the election of the Prime Minister.
The principle of responsibility of the executive towards Parliament translates not only into accountability, but the National Assembly may initiate a motion of no-confidence against the Government if it does not agree with its policy priorities. On the basis of this motion, the majority of the Members of Parliament may withdraw the Government's mandate while at the same time electing the person of the new Prime Minister in order to ensure continuity in governance.
Parliamentary control may be exercised by the plenary, the committees and individual MPs as well. Control may also be enforced through specialized organisations operating under parliamentary control, such as the State Audit Office or the ombudsmen Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his or her deputies for example.
At the plenary session
Important means of control are the discussion and adoption of the different reports submitted by the Government, and political debates which may be initiated either by the Government or by one fifth of the deputies.
In the committees
An important area of Government control realized through the committees is manifested in the discussions of different reports and information. The committees may submit draft resolutions to the National Assembly; in it they may initiate certain measures or tasks that come up as a result of their inquiry. Each standing committee shall set up a sub-committee which monitors the implementation of Acts, as well as their social and economic impact. The committees hold hearings for ministerial candidates before they are appointed, and then these hearings are annually repeated to assess the work ministers have completed. Ministers and heads of central public administration bodies may also be heard on the initiative of two fifths of the committee members on a specified subject.
By the Members of Parliament
The traditional means of parliamentary control that individual Members may exercise at the plenary session are the interpellations, questions and instantaneous questions. The special weight of an interpellation lies in the follow-up it requires: if the MP does not accept the answer he was given, the National Assembly takes a vote, and if this vote is negative, the issue raised in the interpellation comes back to the plenary in the form of a report submitted by the investigating committee.
Members of Parliament also have other means to control the Government. These include speeches made outside the orders of the day, and in particular speeches before the orders of the day broadcast by television and radio.
Distribution of Speeches not Forming Part of the Orders of the Day 1990-
The State Audit Office, the independent, financial and economic control organization of the National Assembly has restarted its operation from 1990. The State Audit Office gives its expert opinion on the State Budget Act, monitors its execution, and in general monitors all public spending and management of state property. The scope of authority of the State Audit Office covers all economic activities where public monies are spent, and it may carry out audits at all levels of state administration. The President of the State Audit Office annually reports on his work to the Parliament. The reports summarising the different audits the Office performed are discussed by the committees.
The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights protect fundamental rights and shall act at the request of any person, examine or cause to examine any abuses of fundamental rights of which he or she becomes aware, and shall propose general or special measures for their remedy. The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his or her deputies shall be elected for six years by a two-thirds vote of the Members of Parliament. The deputies shall defend the interests of future generations and the rights of nationalities living in Hungary. The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his or her deputies shall not be affiliated to any political party or engage in any political activity.
The National Assembly is elected for fours years. Its mandate starts with its constituent sitting and lasts until the constituent sitting of the new Parliament.
In certain, defined cases outlined in the Fundamental Law (e.g.: failure to form a government or motion of no confidence), the President of the Republic may dissolve the National Assembly. The Parliament too, may declare its dissolution prior to the completion of its term. However, since 1990 all Parliaments have completed their 4-year terms.
Just like any other European Parliament, the operation of the Hungarian National Assembly is also dominated by the active, often animated discussions between the MPs of the governing coalition and the opposition. And this is how it should be! The National Assembly, apart from carrying out its public law duties, has political duties as well, for example voicing the existing political views and opinions of society. However, parliamentary word-fencing has rules and a procedural frame that provides for free discussions. These rules are laid down in the Standing Orders of the National Assembly.
The Fundamental Law incorporates the fundamental rules guaranteeing the operation of the National Assembly, while the Standing Orders of the Parliament provides the details of this operation. The Fundamental Law is adopted or amended by the majority vote of two-third of all the MPs, while the adoption or amendment of the Standing Orders requires the majority vote of two-thirds of the MPs present.
The National Assembly annually holds two regular sessions:
An extraordinary session or sitting shall be convened on the request of the President of the Republic, the Government or one fifth of the Members of Parliament.
When in session, the National Assembly holds sittings weekly, Mondays from 1 p.m. and Tuesdays from 9 a.m. (and occasionally Wednesdays). It is the Speaker of the Parliament who convenes the meetings of the House. The House Committee or, if there is no agreement between the factions, the Speaker makes a proposal for the orders of the day. The orders of the day are eventually accepted by the vote of the plenary.
Agenda items concern legislative proposals and other parliamentary resolutions, debates and votes thereon, interpellations and questions; however, there is a possibility to raise very important political issues before the orders of the day at the sittings of the plenary.
The majority of the decisions are taken by a simple majority vote; however, the modification of the Fundamental Law, proposals pertaining to certain legislative issues and operational questions concerning the House may only be decided by a qualified majority vote specified in the Fundemantal law, the law or the Standing Orders. The elections for posts of high public dignitaries also require qualified majority voting.
Verbatim minutes are prepared on the meetings which are later made public on the homepage of the National Assembly. Public television (channel m2) provides a 3-hour and a 5-hour live transmission of the plenary on Mondays and Tuesdays (and Wednesdays), respectively. Public radio broadcasts sittings from beginning to end, and a live television broadcast of the entire meeting can also be reached on the homepage of the National Assembly.
Work schedule for the Parliament and the comittees second half of the year 2011.
The Office of the National Assembly is the work organization of the Parliament. It ensures continuous operation: prepares the plenary sessions, assists the work of the officers, the committees and the MPs.
The Office of the National Assembly counts a staff of 618. Additionally, a further 226 colleagues assist the work of the five parliamentary factions