Coronavirus crisis: EU silent as Orban hands himself dictator powers with no time limit

As governments across the world impose emergency measures to fight the coronavirus, the authoritarian prime minister has handed himself the powers to lock down all aspects of daily life and the borders without an end date. His ruling Fidesz party overcome parliamentary opposition to essentially hand Mr Orban the chance to bypass their assembly on any law, effectively putting the country under his sole control for as long as he sees fit. Politicians passed the law with 137 votes against 52 in Hungary’s lower chamber, where Mr Orban holds a two-thirds majority.

And the European Commission, the Brussels-based executive in charge of upholding the EU’s rulebook, said it would not stand in the way of any capital’s restrictive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Commission’s chief spokesman said: “We are blocking no one from doing what it takes.

“We will, however, remain vigilant across the board in all member states on the fact we do this based on the standards that we have in the European Union in all policy areas.”

Mr Orban’s sweeping new powers include heavy prison sentences, up to eight years, for anyone spreading misinformation or flouting the quarantine rules.

The indefinite state of emergency hands the strongman leader the right to rule-by-decree and means any planned national elections will be cancelled until further notice.

The next parliamentary election is scheduled for 2022, but by-elections and referendums in the build-up will also scrapped.

Mr Orban said the emergency measure “poses no threat to democracy” after his bill was passed in parliament.

He accused opponents to the laws of abandoning the country at a time of global crisis.

Justice minister Judit Varga claimed the legislation is “limited” and envisions only “necessary and proportionate measures” to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

She said journalists should not seek to “distort” facts, a domestic crime the new legislation makes punishable with up to five years in prison.

Critics warn that Mr Orban has effectively created a dictatorship with the sweeping new powers.

Renata Uitz, director of comparative constitutional law at the Central European University in Budapest, said: “I don’t know of another democracy where the government has effectively asked for a free hand to do anything for however long.”

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Daniel Hegedus, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund think-tank, said: “In light of previous experiences with authoritarian dynamics in Hungary, once passed, the enabling act will not be rescinded anytime soon.”

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi called on Brussels to kick Hungary out of the EU unless Mr Orban rescinds his new powers.

Writing on social media, Mr Renzi said: “I have been dreaming of a united states of Europe for year.

“For this very reason I have the right, and the duty, to say that after what Orban has done today, the European Union must beat it and make it change its mind.

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“Or, more simply, drive Hungary out of the Union.”

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs insisted on social media the bill is time-limited by the pandemic which “hopefully ends one day”.

He added “72 percent of Hungarians support this measure”, citing a recent poll on the provisions for spreading fake news.

Hungary has reported a total of 447 coronavirus cases with 15 deaths, according to the government.

It added 13,300 tests had been carried out across the country as part of the effort to halt COVID-19’s spread.

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