Lawmakers in Hungary’s Parliament voted 137-53 Monday to grant Prime Minister Viktor Orbán extensive powers to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite protests from the opposition parties, the bill did not limit the powers to a specific time frame.
The bill allows Orbán’s government to suspend the enforcement of some laws and permits deviation from legal statutes. Any such actions may only last for 15 days, at which point extension requires parliamentary approval. Other measures include 1 to 3 years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine regulations, and 1 to 5 years for anyone to shares false information that obstructs the effectiveness of the government response. It also postpones all elections and referendums, which will instead be held within 15 days after the state of emergency ends.
In addition to the opposition parties, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Eotvos Karoly Institute have condemned the bill as a power grab and as a violation of fundamental rights. Many are concerned that Orbán will not relinquish power once the crisis ends. While the government has argued that Hungary’s Constitutional Court could strike down the law, members of the opposition have pointed out that the court primarily contains people loyal to Orbán. Some members of Orbán’s party, while supporting the measures, have voiced concerns as well.
Some EU member states have also raised concerns over the bill, and the authoritarian tendencies of Orbán’s government. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Twitter that the EU should either take steps to get Orbán to change his mind or expel Hungary from the EU.
Thus far Hungary has 445 recorded cases of COVID-19, and 15 deaths. People on both sides of the political spectrum worry about Hungary’s political infrastructure. Hungarian hospitals have been described as lacking basic supplies and suffering from severe staff shortages.
For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.