Hungary's Far-Right Leader, Viktor Orban, Uses Coronavirus To Gain 'Unlimited Power'

Nick Robins-Early
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (standing) at the session of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest on Monday where his government gained sweeping powers amid the coronavirus crisis. Critics express deep concerns about how he will wield his new authority.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban gained sweeping powers on Monday after the country’s Parliament passed an emergency coronavirus bill that effectively lets the far-right leader rule by decree.

The dramatic new measures include declaring a state of emergency with no time limit, empowering the government to jail citizens for “disinformation” and suspending elections.

Orban’s new powers, which passed with the help of his party’s two-thirds majority in Parliament, deeply concern human rights groups and opposition members who fear the prime minister could use them to threaten the rule of law and democracy.

Hungary is also a potential bellwether for how other far-right leaders could use the global pandemic to consolidate power at a time when countries are more willing to pass extraordinary measures to stem the outbreak. Human rights groups and democracy watchdogs are increasingly worried that governments could make power grabs during the crisis.

Israel has used emergency powers to authorize tracking people’s cell phones,  and the U.S. Department of Justice asked for the ability to detain people indefinitely without trial ― a request decried by both side of the nation’s political spectrum. Countries including the Philippines, Jordan and Thailand have all passed emergency measures that allow strict controls over information and civil liberties.

In Hungary, Orban’s history of vilifying political opponents, journalists and civil society groups makes the measures against disinformation especially concerning. The bill makes intentionally spreading false news that could hinder efforts against coronavirus punishable by up to five years in prison ― but critics say Orban’s past crackdowns on the free press and the legislation’s vague language means it could send a chill to journalists reporting on the government’s actions. 

“The biggest threat now is how the Orban government will use this unlimited power. Its track record has shown that it does...

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