The Hungarian parliament gave the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the authority on Tuesday to govern by decree because of the corona crisis. Critics fear the consequences of the law, which does not include an end date.
Orbán had requested additional powers for his government as an extension of the state of emergency. The Prime Minister’s party, Fidesz, has a solid majority in parliament, so there was little doubt that the Prime Minister would get his way. The opposition voted against.
Critics of the prime minister have reacted in terror to the new emergency law. The spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Rupert Colville, said the law “gives the government virtually unlimited power to govern by decree and circumvent parliamentary scrutiny, with no clear end date.”
The government rejects this criticism. “This is a power that is limited in both scale and time, because it is only related to the coronavirus, and you are shouting ‘dictatorship!” “Said State Secretary Bence Rétvári (Human Resources) before voting against the opposition in parliament.
He pointed out that the law can always be overturned by parliament. Fidesz controls a two-thirds majority of the seats.
Press freedom under pressure
UN spokesman Colville was also unhappy about the part of the law that prescribes jail sentences of up to five years for the dissemination of false information about the crisis. Given the tense relationship between Fidesz and the free press, that could “negatively impact the legitimate work of journalists and potentially have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Hungary,” he said.
Hungarian critics and human rights organizations also fear that the Orbán government will use the law to muzzle journalists.
Orbán has gradually expanded its power in recent years. This led to tensions with the EU, including around declining press freedom in Hungary and the independence of the judiciary.
German conservative parliamentarian Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign committee, has called on the European Commission to act against the new Hungarian law.
Limited lockdown in Hungary
Orbán announced a targeted lockdown last Friday: Hungarians are still allowed to go to work, run errands or go for a walk, but meetings with large groups are prohibited.
He previously said he expects the COVID-19 outbreak to peak in his country in June or July. 447 coronavirus infections have been confirmed in Hungary and 15 people have died from the effects of the virus.
Follow the latest developments around the virus in our live blog.
The coronavirus in short
- The coronavirus mainly spreads from person to person via sneezing and cough drops. The chance of becoming infected through surfaces such as door handles is small. This chance decreases if you wash your hands often.
- You can considerably reduce the chance of spreading by keeping at least 1.5 meters away from others.
- An infected person infects two to three others on average. Precautions are necessary to contain this.
- The vast majority of patients have mild (flu-like) complaints.
- Almost all deaths involve the elderly or other vulnerable persons, such as heart, lung or diabetes patients. If everyone complies with the measures, this reduces their risks.
- Read here what precautions you should take.