Orban gets sweeping powers to fight virus

Hungarian MPs have handed Prime Minister Viktor Orban extended authority without an expiry date.
Hungarian MPs have handed Prime Minister Viktor Orban extended authority without an expiry date.

The Hungarian parliament has handed sweeping powers to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, allowing him to govern by decree following the coronavirus pandemic.

The move, which has no end date, prompted organisations such as Amnesty International to say Hungary was threatening human rights.

The parliament, dominated by Orban's nationalist conservative Fidesz party, passed the bill with 137 to 53 votes on Monday.

The government may now impose any "extraordinary measures", unbound by existing laws.

Hungary is one of many European countries where a state of emergency has been declared, allowing the authorities to deal with the coronavirus crisis without procedural delays.

But Hungarian MPs handed Orban the extended authority without an expiry date so even when parliament calls off the state of emergency, the government may retain its expanded powers.

The bill raised concerns within the European Union, which has previously accused Orban of increasingly autocratic rule even before the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, EU lawmakers sounded the alarm over the bill, urging the European Commission to assess its legality.

The United Nations also reacted to the bill before it was passed, saying it "appears to give the government practically unlimited powers to rule by decree and bypass parliamentary scrutiny with no clear cut-off date".

The global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, said Hungary had created "an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency" and had given "Orban and his government carte blanche to restrict human rights".

In Italy, however, opposition leader Matteo Salvini, hailing from the far-right League party, found nothing wrong with the vote concerning his "friend" Orban.

"I respectfully salute the free decision of the Hungarian parliament [...] democratically elected by citizens. All the best to my friend Viktor Orban and good luck to all the people of Hungary," he tweeted.

Australian Associated Press