Monday

6th Apr 2020

Coronavirus

Hungary's Orban seeks indefinite power in virus bill

  • Hungarian PM Viktor Orban and his government could rule without any practically control during the virus emergency (Photo: Consilium)

Hungary's nationalist government submitted a draft law to parliament Friday (20 March) that would enable it to rule by decree for an unlimited period of time, citing the corona emergency.

The special powers would make it possible for prime minister Viktor Orban's government to "suspend the application of certain laws, derogate from legal provisions, and take extraordinary measures in the interest of guaranteeing the stabilisation of the lives, health, personal and material security of citizens, as well as the economy," the bill submitted said.

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Under an extended and indefinite state of emergency, anyone who publicises false or distorted facts that interfere with the "successful defence" of public health, or can create "confusion or unrest" related to the outbreak, can be punished by up to five years, or three years, in prison.

The draft does not go into details, creating fears that it could enable the Orban government, which in recent years itself has disseminated misleading information and attacked journalists, to decide what can be reported and what is true.

The bill would also make it possible to lock up anyone for up to eight years "who interferes with the operation of a quarantine or isolation order", which raises concerns over sweeping powers of the government to round up people.

Elections and referendums would also be postponed for the indefinite time of the emergency, making it impossible to replace MPs, for instance, if they die in the corona outbreak.

During the emergency the government would brief the parliament, and if the aseembly is in recess due to the coronavirus, the speaker of the parliament and the heads of party groups about what it is doing, raising concerns that the parliament could be sidelined.

The bill would enable the government to indefinitely extend the state of emergency and special powers, removing the current requirement for MPs to approve any extension.

The constitutional court, which Orban has propped up with his supporters, would continue to function during the emergency, but lower-level courts are already on a break due to the pandemic.

Fundamental rights

Civil rights group said on Sunday that the bill does not meet the constitutional requirements for an emergency legal order.

Amnesty International Hungary, the Karoly Eotvos Institute, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union argued that the state of emergency should not be outside of the scope of the constitution.

The groups said the special legal order cannot last forever and should be invoked for a specific period of time that can be prolonged if necessary.

They also said the basic rules for the functioning of the rule of law should not be overridden not even a time of pandemic, and that citizens are entitled to fundamental rights even in a state of emergency.

Hungary has already broken several EU rules, and is under an Article 7 inquiry on violating democratic norms.

Vote soon

Opposition parties will discuss the proposed measures with the ruling Fidesz party on Monday (23 March).

However, it is unlikely they would support it in its current form, the main concern being the indefinite time for the emergency period, Hungarian media reported.

The state of emergency was declared on 11 March to slow the spread of the virus for a period of 15 days.

To vote on the extraordinary measures already this week, when the original state of emergency ends, four-fifths of MPs will need to support the swift move. Orban's Fidesz has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

However, the Fidesz group leader said, if opposition parties do not support the quick vote, parliament can debate it in an expedient process and vote on it in eight days.

That vote would require only a two-thirds majority for the government to gain extraordinary powers, which Orban holds in parliament.

Hungary registered six corona-related deaths and 103 infections out of 4,443 tested people.

Orban's government has been criticised by opposition and independent media for withholding information, and showing inconsistencies in managing the crisis.

In the meantime, the government accused independent media of being "sensationalist" for inquiring about testing protocols.

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