Budapest – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will be able to act against the corona pandemic with extensive and controversial powers.
The parliament in Budapest approved an emergency law on Monday, which enables the right-wing national government to govern on the ordinance without a time limit.
137 deputies from the government camp voted for the bill, 53 opposition MPs voted against. There was no abstention. This achieved the two-thirds majority required to pass a law of this scope for civil and liberty rights.
The law is intended to ensure that “the government can take any extraordinary measures necessary to contain or avert the consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic,” the introduction said. In doing so, it says in the legal text, it can “suspend the application of individual laws, deviate from legal provisions and take other extraordinary measures”.
The duration of these powers of attorney is not specifically limited – it is measured by how long the government considers the pandemic emergency to be a given. Parliament can also decide to end the emergency. At the same time, the new law states that the powers of the government will remain in force if Parliament is prevented from doing so. In addition, the legal text does not contain any criteria for when the Parliament should be considered prevented.
Other provisions include that no elections and referenda may take place during the pandemic emergency. In addition, the penalties for violations of quarantine regulations and for the distribution of false messages are being tightened massively.
According to critics, the latter regulation in particular is deliberately spongy. For example, anyone who portrays a true fact in a manner that tends to “disturb larger groups of people” can be punished with imprisonment for up to three years. Independent journalists fear that they could face prison terms for critical reporting.
The opposition has so far unsuccessfully requested that a time horizon be drawn in for the duration of the special powers. In his almost ten-year tenure, critics say Orban has eroded the democratic institutions in his country and cultivated an authoritarian style of government.
In the EU, due to the alleged restriction of civil and fundamental rights, a fundamental value procedure is underway against Hungary, which can theoretically lead to the withdrawal of voting rights in the Union. The Council of Europe and the UN Human Rights Office had recently criticized the new emergency law as too extensive.
The Greens-European politician Franziska Brantner asked the EU Commission to criticize and to sanction this “clear violation of the democratic principles of the EU”. Orban exploited the corona crisis “shamelessly to expand its power and undermine democracy,” said the politician in Berlin.