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Hungary-Presidential Council

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In 1989 the Constitution described the Presidential Council as subordinate to the National Assembly and superordinate to the Council of Ministers. However, the Presidential Council was in fact the highest state organ and, because the National Assembly met so infrequently, it acted as an ersatz parliament. In early 1989, the chairman of the Presidential Council was Bruno F. Straub, at the time the only noncommunist chief of state in Eastern Europe.

The Presidential Council had combined legislative and executive powers. It set the date for elections to the National Assembly, convened the National Assembly, initiated legislation, and decreed national plebiscites. The Presidential Council also contributed to the normal functioning of state life by concluding and ratifying treaties, receiving the credentials of foreign ambassadors, electing professional judges, and conferring awards and titles. The Presidential Council supervised the local councils by setting the date for council elections, ensuring the rights of the councils, and dissolving those councils that infringed on the Constitution. When the National Assembly was not in session, the Presidential Council assumed the powers of a parliament. In fact, the Presidential Council performed most of the government's legislative work. (The National Assembly usually approved the decree-laws of the Presidential Council at its next session.) In the event of war or threat to the security of the state, the Presidential Council could establish a National Defense Council with extraordinary powers.

In addition to these legislative and executive duties, the members of the Presidential Council undertook a number of other tasks. They participated in the committee work of the National Assembly (see National Assembly , this ch.), held meetings with constituents, and handled complaints about the bureaucracy from the citizenry. Members could represent Hungary abroad and hold meetings with foreign delegations. They also visited county and district governments and participated in awards ceremonies.

In 1989 the secretariat of the Presidential Council consisted of a division for justice, which handled pardons for criminals; a division for civil proceedings; a division for law; and a division for honors and decorations. These divisions had their own organizational statutes. The secretariat lacked a permanent organizational structure because new divisions could be created according to need.

In the late 1980s, the Presidential Council remained a rather secretive body. The media did not publish its discussions and debates. The Presidential Council also did not announce its voting procedures.

In 1989 the Presidential Council consisted of a chairman, two deputy chairmen, a secretary, and seventeen members at large. The National Assembly elected these members from among its own delegates, although the Central Committee of the HSWP actually made the choices. Both party members and nonparty members could be selected for the Presidential Council--including its leadership positions--although party members generally predominated. Three rules seemed to have governed the Central Committee's selections: the council had to be a representative body mirroring the occupational and social structure of the population, it had to contain a number of well-known people in public life, and it had to include several party leaders. The Presidential Council thus was made up of party leaders, as well as representatives of social and political groups, including national minorities, peasants, and women. Church leaders who supported the regime also were selected. A few members were nominated because of their policy expertise in a given field. For example, because the secretary not only supervised the secretariat of the council but also helped to determine its political line and handle its day-to-day affairs, that official usually had had previous experience in the personnel administration of the HSWP.

Data as of September 1989

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