Hungary grants PM Orban sweeping new powers to tackle Coronavirus crisis

Elias Hubbard
March 31, 2020

Lawmakers on Monday passed a bill aimed at extending a state of emergency and granting the government special powers to take extraordinary measures to contain the spread of novel coronavirus.

I greet with respect the free choice of the Hungarian parliament (137 votes in favour and 53 against), democratically elected by the citizens.

It could have declared a legal "state of natural disaster" but this might have called into question a presidential election being held on May 10, in which the incumbent, allied to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, leads in the opinion polls.

It also imposes jail terms for those disseminating news deemed untrue or distorted, prompting renewed fears over press freedom in Budapest.

The government will regularly brief the house speaker and group leaders on the measures taken should parliament lack a quorum.

The rules would only be able to be lifted through a two-thirds vote in Parliament and a presidential signature.

The law, first proposed on 20 March, removes the current requirement for MPs to approve any extension to the state of emergency.

A government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs said Monday that the decrees were also time-limited by the pandemic itself, which "hopefully ends one day".

The legislation has been criticized by opposition parties, worldwide institutions and civic groups for failing to include an expiration date for the government's ability to rule by decree.

"It is concerning how those future decrees will effect civil rights, and in that regard the government has a very worrying track record", she told EUobserver.

"Civil society, journalists and global and European organizations will have to step up their efforts even more in this new situation to ensure that the potential for grave abuses by government overreach are monitored, documented and responded to", she said. We weren't. Orban's power play today has been a long time coming.

Orban has already shrugged off criticism of the new law, claiming that those who criticise it are endangering Hungary's battle agains the pandemic.

Justice Minister Judit Varga told foreign reporters last week that the constitutional court could provide oversight, while parliament could revoke the decrees at any time.

"This law gives the government the power and means to defend Hungary".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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