You are here: Home » International » News » Politics
Business Standard

Hungary's premier Orban gets sweeping new powers in coronavirus fight

Since taking power in 2010, the self-styled "illiberal" nationalist has transformed Hungary's political, judicial and constitutional landscape

Topics
Coronavirus

AFP | PTI  |  Budapest 

Medical personnel from BayCare test people for the coronavirus in the parking lot outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Photo: PTI
Medical personnel from BayCare test people for the coronavirus in the parking lot outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Photo: PTI

Hungary's parliament endorsed a bill on Monday giving nationalist premier Viktor Orban sweeping new powers he says he needs to fight the new pandemic.

Critics at home and abroad have condemned the "anti-defence law", saying it gives Orban unnecessary and unlimited power in a ruse to cement his leadership rather than battle the virus.

After declaring a state of emergency on March 11, the new bill will give Orban the power to largely rule by decree indefinitely until the government decides the pandemic crisis is over.

The bill removes the current requirement for MPs to approve any extension to time limits on the decrees.

It also introduces jail terms of up to five years for anyone spreading "falsehoods" about the virus or the measures against it, stoking new worries for press freedom. It was passed by 137 votes to 53 by parliament's lower chamber, where Orban's Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority.

Since taking power in 2010, the self-styled "illiberal" nationalist has transformed Hungary's political, judicial and constitutional landscape.

The 56-year-old has frequently clashed with European institutions, NGOs and rights groups with Brussels suing Hungary for "breaching" EU values -- charges fiercely denied by Budapest.

Orban has given criticism of the law short shrift, accusing critics of alarmism and appealing to "European nit-pickers" to let Hungary defend itself against COVID-19.

"If they can't help, then at least don't stop the Hungarians from defending (against the virus)," he said Friday.

His justice minister, Judit Varga, told foreign reporters Friday that parliament could revoke the decrees at any time, and that the opposition were "fighting imaginary demons and not dealing with reality".

She also said decrees could be sent to the constitutional court for review.

A government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs insisted on Twitter Monday that the bill is time limited by the parliament's powers of revoke, and by the pandemic itself which "hopefully ends one day".

He added that "72 per cent of Hungarians support this measure", referring to a recent poll about the provision on spreading falsehoods. Last week, opposition MPs said however they do not trust Orban not to abuse unlimited special powers and refused to back the bill in the absence of a time deadline on the decrees.

A government minister, Gergely Gulyas, said it would come into force Monday midnight if the house speaker and Hungarian president sign it immediately.

Dear Reader,


Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

First Published: Mon, March 30 2020. 19:40 IST
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU
.