Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is now ruling by decree, without the consent of Parliament. Elections and referendums have been postponed, the parliament’s legislative powers suspended, and journalists now face five years in prison for spreading news the government deems to be fake and harmful. There is no “sunset clause” in the emergency measures bill, meaning the powers are granted indefinitely.
How will Mr Orbán use his new powers? One of the first emergency edicts has been to “make it impossible for transgender people to legally alter their gender”. In addition, 29 state properties (including orphanages and old-age homes) have been transferred to church control, in an effort to “strengthen the Church’s role in the social sphere”; controversial plans to develop a museum quarter in Budapest which had been blocked by local government will now be rammed through; and potentially embarrassing details of an expensive Chinese-funded rail infrastructure project have been made a state secret for a decade. It is unclear how any of these measures will help prevent or slow the spread of coronavirus in Hungary.
Supporters of the government point out that parliament can rescind the emergency measures at any point. However, in practice, this is unlikely to happen until the government is ready to give up its new powers (and a previous state of emergency it declared in 2015 over the migrant crisis is still ongoing) given that the ruling Fidesz party holds a two-thirds supermajority in parliament. Instead, the measures will likely have the effect of stripping power from local governments (where the opposition is strongest) and centralising it around Mr Orbán, as well as having a chilling effect on the media and muting any criticism of the government.
Has democracy been suspended in Hungary? Are Viktor Orbán’s new emergency powers necessary and proportionate? Or is Hungary sliding further into authoritarianism? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!