Orban’s Plan for Indefinite Emergency Rule Delayed by Opposition

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(Bloomberg) -- Hungarian opposition parties rejected fast-tracking a government bill that would give Prime Minister Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree indefinitely, arguing that it threatened to pave the way for the end of democracy.

The vote in parliament on Monday, days before the expiration of a two-week state of emergency to fight the coronavirus, only delayed its passage as the premier’s ruling coalition has the supermajority that he needs to pass it in parliament next week.

The debate follows a decade of unprecedented measures Orban has used to consolidate power, which triggered a European Union probe over the erosion of the rule-of-law. Opposition lawmakers had proposed extending emergency rule by 90 days with a chance to renew. Orban dismissed the idea.

“We’re fighting to preserve a free, democratic state governed by the rule of law,” said Ferenc Gyurcsany, head of the opposition Demokratikus Koalicio party. “You can’t take that away, no matter what else you’re fighting.”

Orban said the coronavirus crisis may incapacitate parliament and raise the the need for him to have emergency powers for an indefinite period. He said parliament could withdraw the mandate any time, though he conceded that the opposition didn’t have the majority to do that without his party’s support.

Majority Control

“Parliamentary control of the government is exercised by this majority,” Orban said, pointing to his lawmakers, “and not that minority.” He said his party would decide when it will be appropriate to lift the state of emergency.

Monday’s vote may give ammunition to Orban to portray the country’s united opposition as obstructionists when Hungary’s coronavirus outbreak is about to intensify. The country has reported seven deaths and 167 registered cases, though Orban said the number of infections is much higher.

Another contentious part of the emergency bill is the imposition of up to five years in jail for anyone deemed to “distort facts” in a way that may “block the efficiency of defense measures or prevent them.”

The proposal was made after independent media and opposition groups reported purported inconsistencies in the cabinet’s crisis management.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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