The legal status, essential rights and obligations of Members of the National Assembly were formerly subject to the Constitution and have been governed by the Fundamental Law since 2012. The provisions of Act XXXVI of 2012 on the National Assembly regulate the legal status and remuneration of Members.
The legal status of Members of the National Assembly
The Fundamental Law establishes that: "The people shall exercise their power through their elected representatives or, in exceptional cases, in a direct manner."
As in other countries, the free mandate is the basis for the legal status of Members in Hungary. Once elected, Members become legally independent of their electors. They may not be instructed, called to account, or recalled because of their actions or the way they vote. They are at liberty to shape their views in Parliament based on their conscience and convictions and to cast their votes accordingly.
Societal control over Members of Parliament is guaranteed by the contact maintained with voters and by the relative brevity of the term, both of which drive Members to prove continuously that they are worthy of their office. The relationship between Members and their voters is political by its nature. However, it is only in subsequent elections that a Member is put to the test in terms of voter confidence or the lack thereof.
The vast majority of Members join a party's parliamentary group of their own free will. They are also awarded mandates as candidates of one or more parties. They represent the programme of their party in the National Assembly. In practical terms of parliamentary work, Members depend on their parliamentary group in many respects, for instance, in the office a Members may occupy in the National Assembly and the committees they join, and the duties they are assigned. The "party principle" determines the political structure of the National Assembly as well as the activities of Members and the way they perceive their role. However, a Member who resigns or is expelled from a parliamentary group need not renounce his or her mandate and cannot legally be forced to do so.
Although Members may have won their mandates in different ways, such as in an individual constituency or as candidates on a list nominated by a party or a national minority, their rights and obligations are identical.
The majority of rights apply to every Member (e.g. the right to propose legislation, the right to interpellation and the right to take the floor during a debate), but there are certain rights that Members may only exercise collectively. Forming a parliamentary group requires at least three or five representatives. The Rules of Procedure require that motions to modify the orders of the day, to close a debate, or to set a minimum timeframe be put forward by at least five Members. A common threshold is one-fifth of the Members. That limit applies, for instance, to motions of no confidence and proposals seeking to create a committee of inquiry, to convening an extraordinary session or sitting, and to proposing a policy debate.
Members' rights and obligations can be divided into two fundamental groups. The first group covers the rights and obligations relating to the duties and operation of the National Assembly, including the right to be present and to speak at a plenary, which is based on Members' freedom of speech; the right to propose legislation and to make a motion; the right to vote; the right to act as an officer of Parliament; the right to participate in committees, the right to form a parliamentary group; and the right to information.
The second group covers rights and obligations that ensure undisturbed conditions for working in Parliament, including immunity, conflict of interests and the right to various forms of remuneration.
Playing an active role in the work of the National Assembly and promoting its operation are among a Member's fundamental rights and obligations. Uncertified absence from the sittings of Parliament above a certain limit (over one third of voting sessions) is penalised by proportionately reducing the fee payable to the Member.
Members exercise their rights in person (e.g. voting), except in committee meetings, where absent Members may authorise another member of the committee to act as a proxy.
Importantly, Members are expected to maintain regular contact with their voters, to take their opinion into consideration and to represent their interests to the extent possible. To that effect, Members participate in community fora, hold consulting hours and respond by post or email to inquiries received from voters.
A Member's mandate commences when he or she is elected, but it is only complete with the certification of the mandate and the oath taken before the National Assembly, whereupon Members may exercise the rights inuring to them (and may vote, for instance). Another condition precedent requires Members to make a declaration of assets and to eliminate any conflict of interest.