The party factions are the fundamental institutions of modern parliaments. It is precisely their role in Parliament that distinguishes them from other organisations in society. The parties carry out their constitutional duties and indeed the will of the people through the factions operating in Parliament. Voters elect MP candidates that support the programme of individual parties. These MPs then represent the voters in Parliament.
MPs freely decide to form a faction, join one or leave it. In respect of public law, a faction is an institution of Parliament and not of a party. In a political sense, however, factions are fundamentally tied to their parties, and thus there is truth to the saying that it is parties that have factions, not factions that have parties. Legally, however, a party cannot instruct its own faction; it can influence its operation, primarily by political means. At the same time, the basic rules of every parliamentary party contain a provision on the role of the faction within the structure of the party. The different basic rules determine the institutional relationship between the party and the faction, some being closer, others looser.
The activities of the parties as organised within Parliament are the basis for the operation of the National Assembly. The factions are the tools for forming political opinion and providing unified representation of that opinion. They make it possible for a few clear positions and opinions to be presented and argued in a parliamentary debate, instead of several hundred scattered and individual opinions. The organisation of factions, therefore, significantly increases the efficiency and stability of the operation of Parliament.
With regard to the rights of factions and their relationship to one another, a variety of principles is asserted in the Hungarian Parliament.
The Standing Orders and parliamentary practice recognise the principle of equal rights among factions, for example when the Standing Orders provide for the same representation and the same quality of vote both for minor and major factions. But just as important as a fundamental principle is that of proportionality, which finds expression in the parliamentary proportions. It is on the basis of this that parliamentary offices and spots on committees are allocated. It is basically the principle of proportionality that is asserted in allocating speaking time, the factions' operating budget and the determination of office staff, with the difference that the rules diverge somewhat from the proportions in favour of the opposition factions. In the relationship between factions, for example, in the order of speaking and in the restriction on the number of offices held (such as those of Speaker and Deputy Speaker), it is the principle of the degree of power held that is asserted. This can otherwise be traced back to proportionality as well.
After forty years of a single-party system, it was through the amended Standing Orders of June 1989 that the National Assembly first made it possible for MPs to form groups on their own initiative, but no distinction was made between party groups on the one hand and groups based on professional or geographical area on the other. Until then, MPs had formed parliamentary groups by county and were seated in chamber accordingly. (The territory of Hungary was split into the capital city and 19 counties.) The February 1990 amendment to the Standing Orders stated that both parties and independent MPs can form parliamentary groups of at least ten members. In addition, it continued to specify the formation of other professionally- and geographically-based groups. By 1994, the Standing Orders had set down detailed rules for forming and dissolving factions and made these much more precise. According to the Standing Orders, MPs that belong to the same party can establish a faction to coordinate their parliamentary activities. Members from the same party can form only one faction. Any MP who is a party member, has stood for election with the backing of the party or is an independent who has been admitted into the faction must be considered as belonging to that party. An MP can only be a member of one faction. The formation of a faction is announced at the constituent sitting of the National Assembly. As of 1994, only parties were able to form parliamentary groups, whereas independent Members were now no longer able to do so.
According to the Standing Orders in effect during the 1990-94 parliamentary term, at least 10 MPs were needed to form a faction. However, in the Standing Orders adopted in 1994, no fewer than 15 Members were now required. In 1998, the Constitutional Court ruled that this provision was unconstitutional and declared it null and void since it prevented parties from forming a faction if they had fewer than 15 MPs in Parliament - even though they had met the election threshold for entering it (5%). (The Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) had won more than 5% of the vote and had 14 MPs in the National Assembly. It was this party that had turned to the Constitutional Court.)
The rules for forming factions in the Standing Orders should have been put right again following the Constitutional Court ruling. However, proposals on the subject did not receive the required two-thirds backing in either the 1998-2002 term or the 2002-2006 term, so the Standing Orders still had no provision on the number required for forming a faction. Since 1998, the positions taken by the Standing Orders Committee, however, have not deemed attempts to form factions with two or three members as being in keeping with the Standing Orders. (Since 1990, the parliamentary group with the smallest membership has been the MDF faction in the previous term with eight members.) The National Assembly only managed to make up for this omission in the amended Standing Orders of December 2007. Pursuant to this, no fewer than ten MPs of the same party can form a faction. Still, it is possible for fewer Members to form a faction as well, provided that their party has won seats on the national list, that is that the party has crossed the 5% threshold. (This translates to a minimum of nine MPs.)
The Fundamental Law and the Act on the Legal Status of Members of Parliament provide a fundamentally unified set of regulations on the Legal Status of Members. It is the due of the factions and their leadership, however, to set down collective rights or additional rights. The Fundamental Law and other laws also contain provisions that only set down rights for the faction leaders. The Standing Orders take this one step further by not only setting down rights for faction leaders, but in certain cases (e.g. in speaking in Parliament and in asking ministers' so-called instantaneous questions) lay down different rules for MPs that belong to a faction and for those who are independent. According to the rationale in the relevant ruling by the Constitutional Court, the efficient operation of the National Assembly - being assured by the factions - justifies that certain entitlements are expressly due the factions and their leaders, and not individual MPs.
An MP can only be a member of one faction. The MP may leave the faction and the faction can decide to expel any member. An MP who has resigned or been expelled must be considered to be an independent and can only join another faction after six months have elapsed. This tightening of the rules was introduced in the 1994 Standing Orders with the intention of making the factions more stable by rendering it more difficult for MPs to switch. After all, due to MPs changing or leaving factions in the 1990-1994 term, the seating order shifted by 21% with a total of 48 MPs leaving their factions. In some parliamentary terms, as in 1990-94 and 1998-2002, it was the governing party factions that MPs left most frequently, while in other terms, as in 1994-98 and 2002-06, it was the opposition factions that lost the most MPs.
New factions may form each parliamentary term, while other factions may be dissolved. Even parties that did not run in the election may form a faction in the National Assembly. Parties that formed after the election may do this. Factions were formed this way in 1993 by the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) and in 1995 by the Hungarian Democratic People's Party.
At the constituent sitting for the 1990-94 term, six factions announced their formation (the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), the Independent Smallholders, Agrarian Workers and Civic Party (FKgP), the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz) and the Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP)). The MDF, FKgP and KDNP formed factions as parties of the governing coalition, while the SZDSZ, the MSZP and Fidesz set up opposition factions. Later, the FKgP faction split (with 33 remaining in the governing party faction and 12 forming a dissenting faction, which was later dissolved), and by the end of the term MIÉP had established a new parliamentary group. Further attempts to form factions, e.g. that of the Market Party, failed.
The 1994-98 term saw the same six factions (MSZP, SZDSZ, MDF, FKgP, KDNP and Fidesz, later renamed Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Party) begin their work in Parliament. Then in March 1996, after certain MPs had formed a new party, a new faction was formed in the Hungarian Democratic People's Party, which had spun off from the MDF. This was made possible by a precedent-setting position taken on the rules of procedure: if several MPs (having established a party) together "break away" from a faction, then they need not wait six months; they can form a new faction "at once". Toward the end of the term, in June 1997, the KDNP faction was dissolved, and a portion of the MPs who had been expelled joined the Fidesz faction. An interesting characteristic of that term was that while the two governing party factions (the MSZP and SZDSZ) held more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament - a completely unique occurrence since the regime change in Hungary - in that same period the opposition, with less than a third of the seats, had splintered into five factions. The most significant changes actually affected the factions. One of the opposition factions split at the start of the term (into the MDF and Hungarian Democratic People's Party), another (the KDNP) was dissolved at the end of the term, and the opposition faction that had been the smallest at the start of the term, Fidesz, turned into the strongest one with the most members.
At the constituent sitting for the 1998-2002 term, it was again six factions that announced their formation. In conformity with the make-up of a coalition government, Fidesz, the FKgP and the MDF formed the governing factions and the MSZP, the SZDSZ and MIÉP formed opposition factions. The KDNP did not manage to enter Parliament that term and so was unable to form a faction. MIÉP, on the other hand, but now as a result of the elections, were again able to set up a faction after the Constitutional Court ruling had made it possible. The other five parliamentary parties each formed a faction for the third term. Since 1990, this was the first time that the distribution of factions from the constituent sitting was sustained until the end of a term. No other faction was formed, nor were any dissolved, though the FKgP faction (through expulsions and resignations) had lost a significant proportion of its members by the end of the term. MPs who had been expelled or who had resigned from the faction made attempts to form two- or three-member factions, but this bore no fruit and no new faction was formed in this term.
At the constituent sitting for the 2002-06 term, only four factions announced their formation (two governing party factions, the MSZP and SZDSZ, and two opposition factions, Fidesz and the MDF), and, though there were resignations and expulsions, these four factions remained in operation until the end of the term. In the period following the regime change, this Government had the most modest majority in Parliament, with a total of only ten more MPs than the opposition. There was no attempt made among the MPs during this term to form a new faction.
If we compare the data for the four terms, it becomes clear that a framework for factions has developed and that internal cohesion has become increasingly stable. While fluctuation (resignations, expulsions and changes of faction) affected a total of 91 MPs in the first term, the same figure was 49 for the second term, 24 for the third and no more than 18 for the fourth.
From one term to the next, there have been fewer new MPs who were not members of the previous National Assembly: in 1994, this number was 251; in 1998, it was 205; in 2002, it totalled 137; and in 2006, it came to 115. There are currently 37 MPs who have been MPs without interruption since 1990.
As an outcome of the 2006 parliamentary elections, five factions announced their formation at the constituent sitting. Though the KDNP and Fidesz ran joint candidates and set up a joint list in the election, the former formed its own faction in the National Assembly.
Between 16 May 2006 and 30 April 2008, the five factions were as follows:On 14-05-2010. at the constituent sitting of the Parliament, 5 factions declared their creation. The FIDESZ - Hungarian Civic Union was created by 227 MPs, the Hungarian Socialist Party by 59 MPs, the Jobbik by 47 MPs, the Christian-Democratic People's Party by 36 MPs, the LMP by 16 MPs. The statutory meeting of the Parliament there was 1 independent member.
At present, the FIDESZ - Hungarian Civic Union still has 226, Christian-Democratic People's Party 37 members. The number of members of the Hungarian Socialist Party still has 48, Jobbik still has 43, and the faction of the LMP counts 15 members. There are altogether 263 Mps of the governing parties and 106 MPs of the opposition in the Parliament right now. The statutory meeting of the Parliament there was 1 independent member, now there are 17 .
On 30 April 2008, the SZDSZ left the Government and thus its parliamentary group became an opposition faction.
The organisation and operational procedure of the factions are deliberately not covered by the Standing Orders; these are basically left to the factions. They only set down provisions on forming and dissolving factions. Detailed rules on organisation and operation are laid down in the basic rules or regulations approved by the factions. The faction rules are not legal norms, but by setting down a faction's operation and organisation they impact the options available to members and the exercising of their rights. Faction leaders are elected from among the ranks of the faction members as are others charged with faction business (deputy faction leader and faction director).
In contrast with plenary and committee sittings, factions hold closed meetings. It is at the faction sittings that they plan for plenary sittings, establish their positions on various parliamentary topic areas and debate organisational and personnel issues.
The major factions develop parliamentary proposals in working groups or cabinets that correspond to the committees, and they draw up and agree draft amendments and plan for committee sittings. In the previous term when there were 25 standing committees, the MSZP faction had 18 working groups and the Fidesz faction had set up 13 cabinets. Now with regard to the 18 standing committees, the MSZP faction has organised its work into 13 working groups while Fidesz and the KDNP factions have done so in seven joint cabinets (including MPs delegated by the KDNP as well).
Minor factions have one MP who covers one or more areas assisted by experts.
The fact that the current factions (even, with certain restrictions, the KDNP) have been in continuous operation since the regime change is an advantage with respect to the work of Parliament. After all, it is the faction that serves as the framework within which parliamentary knowledge and experience of the legislative process and of committee and parliamentary work are passed on and where new MPs learn the methods and techniques involved. The factions can thus continuously build up their resources in terms of administration and expertise (though the size of their membership may change from election to election).
In plenary (and committee) debates, factions generally act in political unison; in backing or rejecting bills and other proposals, factions take a stance and their members are more or less expected to vote accordingly. Discipline within the faction is guaranteed in various ways. (This is discussed further in the Legislation section.)
The factions and their leaders have a set role in the numerous important issues in parliamentary work, for example in nominating parliamentary officers and members of committees and in working through the orders of the day for the plenary sittings. MPs take part in the work of the parliamentary committees as delegates of the factions. The rules of debate for the plenary sittings are built on the factional divisions by which the floor must always be ceded to an MP from a faction other than one's own, alternating between governing party and opposition, and by which individual MPs may speak from each faction in limited debates.
It is the task of the faction leader to represent the opinion of the faction in various forums, to put forth the position of the faction at plenary sittings, to arrange faction affairs and ensure that MPs are present at sittings of Parliament. This is especially important in the case of governing party MPs in approving the orders of the day and in voting on responses to interpellations, on bills and on other proposals.
The Standing Orders provide faction leaders with significant authority. For example, they are voting members of the House Committee, they can speak prior to the orders of the day, they can make recommendations to place proposals that have been rejected by the committees on the orders of the day, and they can designate MPs to pose instantaneous questions (minister's question time). According to the Fundamental Law, the faction leaders' opinions must be sought before the National Assembly is dissolved. If they are unable to attend a sitting, their deputies can exercise all the rights that faction leaders are granted by the Standing Orders.
The rights of the factions are not restricted to their operation in the National Assembly. They have a key role in forming media authorities. They nominate the members of the National Radio and Television Body, the chairs of the executive boards of the public endowments that run the public television and radio organisations as well as their respective monitoring bodies, and the chair and members of the Owners' Advisory Body of the Hungarian News Agency (MTI) as well as the chair and members of its Supervisory Board.
Faction leaders are members of the Defence Council that is formed in a state of emergency. Faction leaders also appoint members of the institutions that deal with the foundations that assist the operation of the parties.
The Act on Remuneration, Cost Reimbursements and Benefits of Members of Parliament takes into consideration the fact that MPs take part in the work of the National Assembly as members of a faction. This is why it provides an operating budget for the factions as well as the financial resources to pay for administrative support and the services of experts. Thus, independent MPs and opposition factions receive more than governing party factions. According to the law, this amount is the base pay for 25 MPs and, in the case of the governing parties, it comes to 30% of the annual base pay per MP, whereas the percentage is 60% in the case of the opposition parties. The total operating budget for the factions was Ft776,300,000 (approx. €2,963,000) in 2007. The administrative office for the National Assembly is under obligation to provide the factions and the MPs office space (equipment and supplies) in the Parliament building or the National Assembly office block. This is where the staff for the faction offices work as well. Allocated funds amounting to 25% of the MPs' base pay can be used for administrative tasks. This was Ft255,700,000 (approx. €976,000) in 2007. The factions' operating costs must be covered in the National Assembly budget. Faction leaders and a specified number of deputy leaders are due additional pay for their work. (For the amount, see the MPs' remuneration and cost reimbursements section.)
As has been noted in the discussion on factions, it was the June 1989 amendment to the Standing Orders that made it possible for MPs to form groups.
According to the Standing Orders, MPs can also form other groups (e.g. based on profession or geographical area) tied to parliamentary activity. However, these do not enjoy the rights that are due the factions. These groups are formed to take a common stand and to express solidarity. Their activities are not regulated by the Standing Orders, nor are they guaranteed any special rights by them. (They have no more rights, therefore, than an MP is due.) It is precisely for this reason that the Standing Orders do not set down the number of Members that can form such a group. Thus, their operation essentially falls outside the parliamentary mechanism set down in the Standing Orders for debate, preparing decisions and legislation. Irrespective of that, their political or professional clout can in some cases be significant indeed. It has been typical for MPs from different factions to work together in professional or geographical area-based groups.
Most of these groups (18 in all) were formed in the 1990-94 term. These include MP groups for different nationalities, a veterinarians' group, a teachers' group, a "Sobre life" group, a 1956-ers' circle, a group of MPs who had lost their liberties for political reasons, a children and youth group, and groups for the various regions and counties. In later terms, only one or two groups were set up. Groups have sometimes been formed out of necessity, for example, because a proposed committee or committee of inquiry was not established by Parliament or because MPs were unable or did not wish to form a faction (or a party, as a precondition for a faction). An example of the former was when opposition MPs formed a parliamentary fact-finding working group in 2001 to assess the Prime Minister's culpability since their proposal to set up a committee of inquiry was rejected by the governing majority. An example of the latter was the formation of the Independent Smallholders' Party MP group in the 1990-94 term, which was set up because, after the Smallholder faction split, the number of members in the smaller of the two resulting factions had dropped to 10 and so it had to be dissolved. In the 1994-98 term, MPs from the dissolved KDNP faction formed a group. In the last term, MPs who had been expelled from the MDF created a group called the "National Forum". Before the constituent sitting of the latest term, the Fidesz-KDNP faction established a joint group called the "Hungarian Solidarity Alliance" based on this provision of the Standing Orders. Thereafter, five members of the Fidesz faction formed the Smallholder MP group. (Earlier, the Smallholders' Party had had an independent faction in Parliament.)
Term after term, the will to form groups has decreased among MPs. It is less and less common for governing party and opposition Members to band together to form groups based on profession, geographical area or other considerations.
In Parliament, any Member who has not joined one of the factions must be considered an independent. Thus, an independent MP is one who ran in the election as an independent candidate or won a seat as a candidate of a party but is now either on his own or perhaps among several other MPs, but there are too few of them to form a faction. Naturally, these MPs can represent their party in the National Assembly (if they are part of one) and can organise their parliamentary work as such.
The term independence is not primarily a political classification in parliamentary practice; it is a matter of fact: an MP is either a member of a faction or not. (There have also been MPs who ran as independent candidates yet joined a party's faction.) The Standing Orders state that an MP who has resigned or been expelled from a faction must be considered independent. That MP can only join another faction after six months have elapsed.
Since, due to the nature of the electoral system, it is almost entirely candidates from a party or candidates backed by them that win seats, there are hardly any independent MPs at the constituent sitting of Parliament. For obvious reasons, there were the most in 1990: a total of seven. However, in 1994 and 1998, there was one each; in 2002, there were none; and in 2006, the figure was one. It is also typical for that number to grow several times by the end of the term due to expulsions and resignations from factions. In 1994, that figure was 28; 22 in 1998; 20 in 2002; and 11 in 2006. (It is worth noting that by the end of the term a significant number of the independent MPs are from a minor party that cannot form its own faction. For example, in March 1994, of the 28 independent MPs, 27 were presidents or members of 10 minor parties.)
However, these figures from the start and end of the term fail to paint a clear picture of independents as the number is in constant flux throughout the term. (For example, in the 1994-98 term, there was a period in which nearly 10% of the MPs, 37, were independent.)
Since 1990, independent MPs have never formed a faction in the National Assembly though the Standing Orders made this a possibility for any group of at least 10 MPs between 1990 and 1994. The Standing Orders passed in 1994 did not permit this option, based on the premise that independents are independent of one another.
Independent MPs elect a representative from among their ranks to act in specified matters. However, since 1994, the representative for the independent MPs has not been a member of the House Committee and as of January 2000 he has not been due additional pay pursuant to the Act on MP Remuneration.