Hungary to end state of emergency as NGOs cry foul

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Belgrade, Serbia, 15 May 2020. Orban is on an official state visit to Serbia. [EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC]

As promised, the Hungarian government submitted two draft bills to end the state of emergency and terminate its controversial powers, but civil society organisations said on Wednesday (27 May) the moves are simple trickery.

The government submitted a draft law late on Tuesday (26 May) to parliament that will call on the executive to end the state of emergency and repeal the controversial coronavirus act, which enabled government decrees to stay in force without legislative oversight during the special legal order.

Only the executive is able to declare an end to the state of emergency according to the country’s constitution.

In a separate 246 page legislative proposal, the Orbán government put forward transitional rules that three civil rights organisations said “will enable the government to rule by decree for another indefinite time period, this time without the minimum constitutional guarantees.”

“The proposals have been rung in as providing a snappy response to the unfounded fears of those who have warned of the dangers of governance by decree, but in reality are completely incapable of dispelling those fears,” wrote Amnesty International Hungary, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in a joint statement.

According to the watchdogs, the transitional rules will permanently expand the scope of government powers in a state of emergency previously restricted by the disaster management law.

The NGOs also pointed out that the amendments concerning health crises create the “younger brother” of the special legal order, in which the government may restrict fundamental rights, such as freedom of movement or the right of assembly, by decree practically indefinitely.

“Based on the above, it was confirmed that those who warned that the government can and will abuse the power it has gained in connection with the epidemic were right,” the analysis added.

The coronavirus law was initially rejected during the extraordinary parliamentary procedure that required the backing of three quarters of MPs, with opposition lawmakers demanding a 90-day limit to the extraordinary powers.

In response, Orbán said the country would be “in worse condition” in 90 days if the virus is allowed to spread further. The bill passed on 30 March thanks to the “supermajority” that the ruling Fidesz party holds in parliament.

“With the adoption of the bill, the state of emergency is expected to end on 20 June in Hungary, much earlier than in many European countries,” Justice Minister Judit Varga wrote on social media on Tuesday (26 May).

“We expect those who have attacked us with unjust political accusations to apologise for leading a slander campaign instead of cooperating in defence,” she added.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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