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Hungary to make more changes to new constitution

Thursday - 8/29/2013, 6:20pm  ET

PABLO GORONDI
Associated Press

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- The Hungarian government said Thursday it is proposing new amendments to the country's constitution to avoid giving critics further grounds for criticism.

Robert Repassy, state secretary at the Justice Ministry, said the draft of the constitution's fifth amendment presented in June is being fine-tuned and will include, among others, new rules on the recognition of religious groups and modify a ban on political advertisements on commercial television and radio stations.

Repassy said the government felt it was being forced into having to adopt the changes to the Basic Law, as the new constitution has been called in Hungary since taking effect in 2012.

"The government wants to put an end to the situation were apparently legal problems can serve as pretexts for further attacks against Hungary," Repassy said.

The EU, the U.S. and international rights watchdogs have criticized Hungary's legislation on, among others, homeless people, churches and the justice system.

Despite the announcement, analysts said the government wasn't really giving much ground.

"They take three steps forward so when asked to take a step back, they are still ahead of the starting point," said Julia Lakatos of the Center for Fair Political Analysis, adding that measures made it seem like Hungary had listened to its critics while not "actually changing the status quo."

While political campaign ads will be allowed on commercial TV and radio, broadcasters won't be allowed to charge for them and all qualifying political parties will have to be given equal air time. This makes it unlikely any ads will be run, Lakatos said.

Political parties will still be allowed to run free ads on state media, whose audience, especially for TV, is usually much smaller than for private media.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party, which leads a two-thirds majority in parliament allowing it to pass legislation without involving the opposition, originally passed the ad restriction with the supposed purpose of limiting campaign costs.

As for the churches, Repassy said all religious communities will be allowed to function as churches but parliament will still keep the right to designate so-called recognized churches, which could be granted the tax breaks and other advantages which all churches in Hungary had until the current government greatly restricted their number.

Some of the changes expected to be passed next month to the Basic Law, such as the planned merger of the National Bank of Hungary with the financial markets watchdog, have been welcomed by the EU.

Parliamentary elections are planned to be held in Hungary in April or May, possibly at the same time as elections for the European Parliament.


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