The nationalist government in Hungary passed a law Monday granting sweeping emergency powers that Prime Minister Viktor Orban says are necessary to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Those powers include sidelining parliament and giving Orban the power to rule by decree indefinitely. The law would punish those who spread false information about the pandemic with up to five years in prison.
“Changing our lives is now unavoidable,” Orban told lawmakers last week. “Everyone has to leave their comfort zone. This law gives the government the power and means to defend Hungary.”
During Monday’s vote, he said: “When this emergency ends, we will give back all powers, without exception.”
But critics insist that Orban is using the pandemic to grab power. “An indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency cannot guarantee that the basic principles of democracy will be observed,” Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric wrote to Orban on March 24.
Orban rose to prominence in the European Union in 2015 by slamming the EU’s open-door response to asylum-seekers. As Hungary’s prime minister for the past decade, he has upset EU leaders by weakening his country’s judicial and parliamentary systems to stifle opposition.