Hungarians have protested by the thousands against proposed changes to their constitution that they believe will limit their democratic rights. International concern over the upcoming vote is growing.
Opponents of the proposed constitutional changes say they fear they will curb citizens’ democratic rights. This led to two days of protests in Budapest, the first taking place on Thursday with dozens of protesters. On Saturday, thousands turned out to voice their concerns.
The parliament is to vote on the proposed amendments on Monday.
“A really worrying oppressive system is being built up here, like a dictatorship," Milan Rozsa, a 25-year-old protester, told the AFP news agency.
Critics argue that the proposals seek to reinstate measures that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government had previously introduced, but which were struck down by the country's constitutional court in recent months.
They say the proposed changes would have restrictive implications for higher education, by requiring students who receive state grants to stay and work in Hungary after their studies.
Another provision would restrict election campaigning to state media, something critics say would damage Hungary's democracy. Among the other proposals is a ban on sleeping on the streets.
The changes would also curb the powers of the constitutional court by rendering any of its decisions made before the current constitution came into force last year invalid.
The European Commission, the Council of Europe and human rights organizations have expressed concern over the upcoming vote.
In a phone call on Friday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Prime Minister Orban that his government and the parliament should address concerns "in accordance with EU democratic principles.”
Orban responded in writing to Barroso, pledging that Hungary would conform to the norms and rules of the European Union, but he failed to offer details.
The Council of Europe, the European institution responsible for defending human rights, also weighed in on the issue last week, urging Budapest to postpone the vote. The Hungarian government rejected the request.
Saturday’s protest was organized by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.
tm/pfd (AFP, Reuters)