Hungarian local governance in coronavirus– The curious case of the mayor’s very own budget

Kristóf Gál

The year 2020 was full of local political controversies in Hungary, and quite a few of these could be attributed to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was obvious that local assemblies could not function in their regular ways, but at first it was not known how Parliament intended to help democracy in the municipal level thrive despite the virus.

The Hungarian Government declared a state of emergency on the 11th of March 2020, and an amendment was made to Act CXXVIII of 2011 which stated that: “In a state of emergency, the duties and powers of the body of representatives of the municipal government, the metropolitan and county assemblies shall be exercised by the mayor, the Lord Mayor or the president of the county assembly. In this context, he/she may not take a position on the reorganisation, termination, scope of supply or service of a municipal institution if the service also affects the municipality.”

 So as short summary, for an uncertain time (there is no limitation on the duration of state of emergency in the Fundamental Law) the mayor acted instead of the local assembly. This -at times- has resulted in farcical situations, which I shall present now. There were several mayors in some Hungarian towns that simply decided to construct and adopt a budget by themselves. The Mayor of Komló decided, during the adoption of his own budget, that during the state of emergency the honorarium (the money they receive for their duties as elected officials) of the local assembly members will be 0 HUF. Similar events took place in Salgótarján -a city with county rights- where they published the budget (billions of HUF) on the website of the city, of course without ever consulting the local assembly. Another example is Szekszárd, also a city with county rights, where the mayor adopted his own budget, not only without consulting assembly members, but despite the explicit disagreement of the local assembly’s majority leader, who called this action an “abuse of power”.

Some mayors also made sure to reward their own hard work and dedication, and as the previously mentioned amended law also left place for such noble gestures, the mayors made sure to take this opportunity. The mayor of Balatonalmádi rewarded himself with 1.075.000 HUF “in recognition of the tasks carried out in 2020 and the additional performance resulting from the emergency", others were not this shy, the mayor of Gyál decided to give himself more than 4.000.000 HUF, but team effort was needed in Dunaföldvár, where the mayor and the deputy mayor unfortunately could not reward themselves, but solving this conundrum, they simply rewarded each other.

Since 15 June 2021 local assemblies are allowed to sit again ordinarily.

Another law passed in 2020 concerning local government was the prohibition of local elections and local referenda. The regulation which entered into force was the following: “In the event of the dissolution of the body of representatives of a local or national minority self-government, this decision shall take effect on the day following the cessation of the emergency. (…) No by-elections can be called until the day after the end of the state of emergency, and the elections already called are cancelled.”  

This resulted in a massive backlog of by-elections as the first available date for a by-election was 10 April 2022, but no by-elections had taken place between that date and 4 November 2020. A record number of 93 by-elections took place on 26 June 2022, which meant that the total tally between April and the end of June 2022 was over a 100. In light of this we can conclude that if a mayor handed in their resignation, like the one in Dörgicse did, it meant that their deputy mayor had to take over as caretaker, and if the assembly members wanted to dissolve the assembly itself it only took affect after the state of emergency had ended.

We know (based on polls) that opinion (and in this context trust in a body or a leader) changes from time to time, so it would not be an unfair assumption to make that different results would have followed a resignation (in December 2020.) a month afterwards, then they did almost a half years later.

September 2022


The views expressed above belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for Social Sciences.