Hungary Beyond the Pale

While all European countries are preoccupied with tackling the disastrous impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Orbán-government is busy trying to exploit the opportunity and expand its authority beyond what is acceptable in a democracy.  This is the take of the international public opinion on the latest developments in Hungary, where the government once again took advantage of its two-thirds supermajority to adopt a bill yielding unlimited powers to an already omnipotent government running on its third consecutive term. With state of emergency declared, the bill allows government to rule by decree by-passing parliament without any limitation on time and scope, and limiting press freedom by sanctioning dissemination of false information and fake news (whatever that might mean in the vocabulary of Fidesz) concerning the pandemic.

It has become commonplace to say that extraordinary times require new priorities and extraordinary measures to shorten decision-making procedures and enhance operative and executive powers. In seeking the fine balance in this unusual situation is where context and trust come into play. As the problem is not so much with the legal details of this particular law but rather with the context of Hungarian politics in which it is implemented, the sum of developments that led to an air of mistrust surrounding the Orbán-government home and abroad. 

While propagandists of the Orbán-government like to portray that it was due to its firm stance on migration policy that the EU establishment singled out the cabinet, it is a false narrative. It is not ideological bias or the conspiracy of Soros agents but the continuous and consistent breach of democratic norms and values that led to a lack of trust in the Orbán-administration. In fact it is the unprecedented level of corruption, cronism and utter neglect for all written or unwritten norms of democratic standards that led to triggering an Article 7 procedure against Hungary in the EU or depriving Fidesz of all its rights in its political group, the European Peoples’ Party. With such a poor track record nobody should be surprised to see raised eyebrows when such legislation is passed.

One might also ponder why such legislation is needed at all by a single party government in possession of two-thirds majority in parliament and virtually holding every possible office of authority in the country including a puppet as president, and Fidesz-appointed judges in the Constitutional Court? What new powers does such a bill yield to tackle the challenges posed by Covid-19 that the Orbán-government does not yet have? Why is it, that Belgium, which is hit by the pandemic in a far greater degree can cope with the emergency situation, while there is no possibility under its constitution to declare a state of emergency, and which not only has a fragile political system but did not even have a federal government at the time of the outbreak? 

Having served as an MP in Hungary for almost ten years I cannot escape the thought that the sole purpose of this legislation was to eliminate parliamentary control for the unforseeable future. Nobody knows yet what the effects of the virus will be in a fragile and vulnerable country like Hungary and how long the real effects of this virus will last, let it be social, economic or psychological in nature. In my view this bill is nothing else but a device in the hands of an authoritarian regime to prolong its time in power, a cold political calculation of a cezaromaniac leader.


Published on Márton Gyöngyösi's website -