When the 39 delegates signed the Constitution on a hot summer’s day in Philadelphia, not one of them believed their work was over. It was not until the document’s ratification the following year that Benjamin Rush declared, “Tis done. We have become a nation.”
Hungary, whose history predates America’s existence by a thousand years, is now working to pen a new constitution that reflects her independence from the former Soviet Union. Thus far, however, Hungary’s leaders have overlooked the essential importance of popular ratification. We support the Hungarian government in their effort to construct better safeguards for liberty, but the legitimacy of their work is in question if the people are not given a chance to ratify the constitution on its own merits.
In a recently published Backgrounder, Marion Smith presents the current situation and makes recommendations for the ongoing constitutional process in Hungary. Fidesz, the nation’s majority center-right party, recently won in landslide elections last year and soon after began drafting a new constitution. While the governing coalition has moved forward united in its goal to adopt the proposed text, the opposition parties have refused to participate. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court in Hungary has previously ruled that a referendum cannot be held on a constitutional issue, thereby excluding that option. Because Fidesz has opted to ratify the document through Parliament, the leftist parties unfortunately can influence the future legitimacy of the new constitution by withholding their participation.
Instead, Smith argues, the governing party should organize a constitutional convention of delegates elected without party affiliation from local governments around Hungary. Even though there would probably be some overlap between the elected delegates and current parliamentary members, it would still be an independent body elected for one purpose. “Parliament could continue its debate and drafting process and then submit its final constitution to the Hungarian people for a “yes” or “no” vote at a national, extra-parliamentary ratification convention.”
Hungary’s leaders need only look inside their own Parliament for the motivation to move the ratification of the constitution closer to the people. Inside the rotunda rests St. Steven’s Holy Crown, a symbol of the government’s “respect for the ultimate sovereignty of the Hungarian people.” If Fidesz transmits this symbolism into action, their constitution will rest on the solid, indispensable foundation of popular consent.
Michael Sobolik is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation.