31 March 2020   Leave a comment

The Parliament of Hungary has given the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, extraordinary powers. The legislation, passed by Orban’s party, Fidesz, gives Orban the right to rule by decree and the legislation does not specify a date by which the emergency legislation must end. The law goes even further. According to the New Statesmen: “It declares a state of emergency; it allows him to rule by decree; it ensures there will be no new elections; it renders misinformation, presumably as defined by the Hungarian government, punishable by up to five years in prison; and it makes disobeying quarantine or isolation punishable by five to eight years in prison.” Ostensibly, the law was passed to protect the country from the coronavirus, but the consolidation of power in Orban’s hands has been going on since Fidesz achieved a supermajority in the Parliament. Orban himself has celebrated Hungary’s status as an illiberal democracy, insisting that Hungary is a Christian nations and that other religions should not share the same rights in Hungary. The European Union has raised serious concerns about Hungary’s standing within the Union, and the primary concern is that the coronovirus could be used as an excuse to abandon democratic norms. Daniel Baer expresses those concerns in Foreign Policy:

“Orban’s power grab is shocking but not surprising: Hungary’s democratic backsliding has been going on for well over a decade. Orban—who started in politics as part of the wave of young leaders who planted new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism—and his right-of-center Fidesz party have long engaged in a systematic dismantling of the institutional protections that secured an independent judiciary and free media in Hungary. They have used these and other institutional changes to secure and accumulate political power. Orban’s exploitation of the current coronavirus moment is less reflective of the chaos caused by the pandemic than of the collective failure of democratic actors and institutions—including the EU and NATO—to have put a check on Orban’s anti-democratic moves over the last 10 years.

“Too many in the international community have been unwilling to confront Orban, in part because they have seen him (and because he has presented himself) as the more acceptable version of Hungarian right-wing populism. ‘Look,’ Orban and his cronies would tell concerned Europeans and Americans behind closed doors, ‘would you rather see Fidesz or Jobbik in charge?’ For many years, Hungary’s neo-Nazi Jobbik party has been instrumentalized by Orban both domestically and internationally to achieve his own political objectives. (Other European leaders on the right have similarly attempted to embrace the far-right populists in their countries but none with the cunning cynicism or disastrous constitutional consequences of Orban.)”

As long as the Hungarian people continue to vote so heavily in favor of Fidesz, it is hard to imagine that Orban would eschew the powers he has been granted. But the change is a serious threat to the integrity of the European Union and to the international community as a whole. Let us hope that it is not a harbinger of changes excused by the deadly virus.

Posted March 31, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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