Coronavirus: Hungary’s government seeks to remove rule by decree from far-right leader Orban

Vincent Wood
AFP via Getty Images

Hungary will seek to remove a state of emergency spurred by the coronavirus pandemic which had allowed its far-right nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree.

Mr Orban was granted the right to rule by decree without the consent of parliament for an unlimited period of time in a move that prompted international condemnation and claims from critics the central European nation was sliding towards dictatorship.

However after initially being approved by Budapest’s parliament, where Mr Orban’s party holds a two thirds majority, the government has prepared a bill to rescind the autocratic power of the leader by 20 June.

In the face of criticism from the European Union, which calls for democratic rule in all member states, Mr Orban defended his absolute power in the country by arguing it was necessary to tackle the virus which has claimed the lives of at least 499 people within the state and infected more than 3,700.

He has since said parliament could at any time cancel the special powers to manage the country without their consent - with government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs saying the right to rule by decree went “hand in hand” with the nation’s state of emergency - implying both could be rescinded together.

It comes amid concern Mr Orban’s lunge for power had made him the EU’s first dictator - further exacerbating tensions between eastern and western states on the continent.

While not directly criticising the country, EU president Ursula von Der Leyen said last month of the continent’s coronavirus response “I am concerned that certain measures go too far – and I’m particularly concerned with the situation in Hungary”.

The European Parliament last month passed a resolution, describing the extra powers granted to Mr Orban during the pandemic as “totally incompatible with European values”.

European Commission vice president, Vera Jourova, described the legislation introduced in Hungary as “very disturbing”.

Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga, announcing the 20 June target for lifting the emergency in a Facebook post, described the international criticism levelled at Hungary from democracies around the world as "unfounded attacks".

She added: "We expect (our critics) to apologise for waging a smear campaign instead of cooperating on defence (against the coronavirus)."

However while offering explanations focussed on the virus, the PM has also managed to carry out policy in line with his nationalist agenda - with his latest decree requiring government approval for major foreign stakes in domestic firms until the end of 2020.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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