Hungarian Parliament Gives Orban Full Power

Published: 01 April 2020

Viktor Orbán parliament Viktor Orbán adressing the Hungarian Parliament in 2015. (Photo: Elekes Andor, CC BY-SA 4.0)

By Sandrine Gagné-Acoulon

The Hungarian parliament approved on Monday a law expanding the power of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and allowing him to take extraordinary measures on the grounds of combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

Human rights advocates are now calling for the European Union to address Hungary’s deteriorating democracy, warning that the country threatens to become the bloc’s first dictatorship. 

The adoption of the so-called “Coronavirus Protection Law” suspends parliament and stretches the country’s state of emergency, which had been declared earlier this month, for an unlimited period. Until it is lifted, the prime minister can rule by decree, overriding existing laws. 

Moreover, a Human Rights Watch statement emphasized, the law introduced new crimes of misinformation and obstruction of the government efforts to prevent the spread of an infectious disease.  

Anyone breaking quarantine risks eight years’ imprisonment. And, in a broadly worded article, the new law foresees up to five years in prison for disseminating  “untrue or misrepresented” statements that could “prevent the efficiency” of the fight against the coronavirus.

“With Orban’s terrible track record on media freedom, this raises genuine fears that the law aims to crush Hungary’s last critical voices,” Human Rights Watch wrote.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Transparency International said that such measures must be limited in time. 

“Emergency legislation and measures must remain subject to meaningful legislative and judicial oversight and be reviewed regularly to ensure they are still necessary, proportionate and suitable to address the threat that led to their introduction,” the OSCE said. 

The justice commissioner of the European Union, Didier Reynders, said he would initiate an official assessment of whether the new law violates European Union standards.  

A government spokesperson argued in an interview with Al-Jazeera that the parliament could revoke the state of emergency “anytime.” But with Orban’s party enjoying a two-thirds majority, it is unlikely to do so against his wishes.

Orban’s government has been criticized by the European Union for years for breaching judicial independence, freedom of expression, and the rights of minorities. In 2018, a procedure was approved in the European Parliament calling for an investigation of Hungary for violating the union’s “founding values.” The parliament recently approved a resolution saying the situation has deteriorated since then.