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Hungary Index

Figure 8. Government System, 1986

Source: Based on information from Hans-Georg Heinrich, Hungary: Politics, Economics, and Society, Boulder, Colorado, 1986, 70.

The political system of Hungary bore some similarity to a parliamentary form of government. In principle, power in the government emanated from the National Assembly, which elected its own leadership--the Presidential Council and its chairman, who served as chief of state--and the Council of Ministers, which formed the government (see fig. 8). The state apparatus, however, was not the center of political power in Hungary. The government merely executed policies designed by the HSWP. Within the government itself, power resided in the Council of Ministers and the Presidential Council. The National Assembly merely ratified decisions made elsewhere.

Government life centered on the Council of Ministers. The regime established the Council of Ministers in the immediate postwar period using the Soviet Council of Ministers as a model. The primary function of the Council of Ministers was to administer the economy. It also had the power to pass some legislation; the ministries could make laws in their own jurisdictions.

The Presidential Council--the collective chief of state--was modeled after the Soviet Union's Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. The council, headed by its chairman, combined legislative and executive functions. In fact, the Presidential Council passed most of the country's legislation.

The HSWP effectively exercised control over the government. In 1989 all members of the Council of Ministers and most members of the Presidential Council were party members and served on such party bodies as the Central Committee and the Politburo (see Party Structure , this ch.). As party leaders, government officials formulated economic, political, and social policies. These officials were subject to the norms of democratic centralism, which required them to carry out the directives of the HSWP or face party discipline (see Democratic Centralism , this ch.). Equally important, the party exercised control over these governmental institutions through its power of nomenklatura (see Glossary), a list of party and government positions for which the party had power to make appointments. The HSWP's Basic Organizations ensured that the staff of each ministry adhered to party policies on a day-to-day basis.

In the 1980s, the regime opened up the political system to a greater degree of popular participation. Although multicandidate elections had been permitted since the late 1960s, a 1983 amendment to the Constitution made mandatory the multicandidate elections for the National Assembly and the local councils. However, these elections took place under the auspices of the PPF, which guaranteed that candidates accepted its program. A national list of candidates to the National Assembly, who ran unopposed, did ensure the election of party and government luminaries, as well as of other figures of national importance. Nevertheless, in the 1985 elections many independent candidates, who were not among the PPF's original slate of nominees, succeeded in gaining seats in the National Assembly and the local councils. Significantly, although the regime structured the elections to favor its candidates, until mid-1989 the Hungarian electoral system was the most democratic in Eastern Europe.

The local councils had very little power. Ironically, their chief importance lay in administering those services, such as education, housing, and food supply, that had the greatest impact on people's lives.

Like other Marxist-Leninist regimes in the late 1980s, Hungary lacked an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court, together with a system of lower courts on the county and district levels, had few duties and little power. The prosecutor general and his subordinates on the local levels represented the state in prosecuting persons accused of a crime. However, the law also obligated these officials to protect the rights of the citizenry and ensure a fair trial for the accused.

Data as of September 1989

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