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Hungary approves extra government powers, with no end date

Law also includes measures against false information, raising concerns it could be used by the government to muzzle independent media.
Image: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the plenary session of the parliament in Budapest on Monday. Zoltan Mathe / MTI via AP

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's parliament on Monday approved a bill giving Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government extraordinary powers during the coronavirus pandemic, without setting an end date for their expiration.

The bill was approved by Orban's Fidesz party and other government supporters by 137 votes in favor to 53 against. It needed 133 votes to pass.

It has been criticized by opposition parties, international institutions and civic groups for failing to include an expiration date for the government's ability to rule by decree.

It also includes measures against false information which have raised concerns that they could be used by the government to muzzle independent media.

“The extraordinary measures are related to the pandemic, to its prevention, its elimination and the damaging economic consequences,” said Csaba Domotor, a deputy minister in Orban's Cabinet Office. “A time limit cannot be declared in this situation because there is no one ... who can say how many months of struggle we have to prepare for.”

Opposition lawmakers said they were willing to give the government the requested powers, but only if they were set for a certain period, with the possibility of extensions.

“The opposition is united on the issue of giving the government powers which are significantly more extensive than the authority in the Constitution,” said Tamas Harangozo, a lawmaker with the opposition Socialist Party." The opposition's request is that “the government accept that it can only do this within time limits.”

The human rights chief at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe also expressed concerns about the new legislation.

“It is clear that states need to act swiftly in order to protect their populations from the COVID-19 pandemic, and I understand that extraordinary measures may be required to do so,” said Ingibjorg Gisladottir, director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

“However, a state of emergency —wherever it is declared and for whatever reason — must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary.”

Hungary declared a state of emergency on March 11 due to the spread of coronavirus, which so far has infected 447 people in Hungary, with 15 deaths.