Orban Seizes on the Coronavirus to Poison Hungary’s Democracy

Orban Seizes on the Coronavirus to Poison Hungary’s Democracy
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, center, delivers a speech about the coronavirus outbreak at the House of Parliament in Budapest, March 23, 2020 (MTI photo by Tamas Kovacs via AP Images).

Hungary’s parliament this week handed populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban expanded emergency powers aimed at tackling the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country. But critics warn that the new law gives Orban dictatorial authority, turning a public health emergency into a crisis of democracy.

On Monday, the ruling right-wing Fidesz party used its large legislative majority to pass the “Protecting Against the Coronavirus” law. It allows the government to extend the state of emergency it declared on March 11 indefinitely, paving the way for Orban to continue bypassing parliament and ruling by decree until he deems the crisis over. The legislation also bans elections and introduces prison terms of up to eight years for breaking quarantine or spreading “false” or “distorted” information.

Orban says the expanded authority is needed to fight the spread of COVID-19. Fidesz officials accused opposition parties of “siding with the virus” when they refused to support an effort to fast track the bill through parliament on March 23.

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