Premier Viktor Orban of Hungary has been formally empowered today by a coronavirus response bill which was passed through the nation’s National Assembly. It enables Orban to rule the country by decree, bypassing the normal series of checks and balances set within the governmental process. Orban is now allowed to institute directly any law he views as designed to respond to the disease, and to suspend elections as he sees fit. The bill also introduces penalties, including jail terms, for anyone deemed to be spreading misinformation about Covid-19 or the government’s handling of the virus.
The bill was expected to be approved, as Orban’s party, Fidesz, controls more than 50% of their congressional seats and its junior partner in government, KNDP, contributes enough to create joint control of more than 2/3 of the available seats. Their slim supermajority was affirmed in recent elections, although gerrymandering and modifications of election law designed to benefit Fidesz failed to result in any growth in seats and were widely seen as a dangerous decrease in influence by the group.
The new restrictions on misinformation are deemed particularly worrisome to independent press agents, as allegations of state control of media are common in Hungary.
Hungary officially has 457 cases of Covid-19, with 15 deaths. The comparatively low rates of infection and mortality are credited by the government as due to their rapid action, but there are doubts about the accuracy of the numbers. Specific names and locations of the cases are being withheld both from international health agencies and local journalists.
Hungary has a curfew in place designed to limit the spread of the disease.
(P)eople can only leave their homes to go out to go to work and shop and to “run errands regarding basic needs.” Grocery stores, drug stores, pharmacies, and markets will be open. People will be required to keep one and a half meters apart. Those above 65 can only visit food stores and pharmacies between 9 am and 12 pm. Between 9 am and 12 pm only those above 65 are allowed to visit these places. Gathering in groups will be banned. People will be allowed to go for walks and children will be allowed to be taken out for walks in small groups.U.S. Embassy in Hungary
Opposition leaders generally agreed to the bill’s language, but attempted to get a sunset included which would end the power on a specific date, barring active extension by the National Assembly. Orban’s party flatly rejected such language, heightening concerns the power is expected to be used beyond the time for reasonably dealing with the crisis.
The EU has clashed with Orban repeatedly over the last two years, because of his aggressive anti-immigrant measures such as criminalizing the provision of food to any immigrant and because of his government’s seizure last year of control over dissemination of scientific information to the general public. Nevertheless, Hungary remains an EU member, although the policies enacted by Fidesz led to their being removed from the center-right coalition in the European Union government.
President Trump hosted Viktor Orban at the White House last May, at a meeting in which the pair praised each other and their respective actions as national leaders.