Viktor Orban

BreakingHungarian democracy 'in quarantine'

The Hungarian parliament has now granted the government the power to rule by decree in this emergency.

The new law, which we described a short while ago, was backed by 137 MPs, and 53 were against.

The law has no time limit and has been strongly criticised by opponents in Hungary, as well as by international human rights watchdogs.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban - a nationalist and conservative - promised to use the extraordinary powers "proportionately and rationally".

The leader of the opposition Jobbik party, Peter Jakab, said the law placed the whole of Hungarian democracy in quarantine.

Hungary plans sweeping government powers

Nick Thorpe, BBC News

Emergency mask production in Budapest, 24 Mar 20
Getty Images
Emergency mask production in Budapest

The Hungarian parliament is expected to grant the government extensive new powers to enforce the state of emergency, in a vote today.

It is a controversial move - more than 100,000 people have signed a petition against it. But Prime Minister Viktor Orban's conservative Fidesz party has a strong majority in parliament.

According to a survey by the pro-government polling agency Nezopont, 90% of the public want an extension to the emergency law, and 72% agree that the criminal code be strengthened.

But opposition parties and human rights groups accuse the government of including several extreme measures in the law, which no opposition party in any democracy could ever agree to. These include the granting of special powers for an indefinite period, reducing democratic control over those measures, and threatening journalists with imprisonment for just doing their job.

In that sense, they see the law as a political trick by the government. When the opposition votes against it, they can be accused of being traitors, in the nation's hour of need.

A pro-Fidesz analyst, Zoltan Kiszelly, told the BBC "the government wanted to have a free hand in dealing with this pandemic, that’s why they wanted to have this power.

"But there is … no intention of the government to limit freedom of speech or freedom of the media."

A hate campaign in government media against independent news outlets has alarmed journalists. "When anger and resentment is incited against us in the media, it serves only to demean and silence the voices of those who have heroically taken their places on the frontlines of public health," wrote Peter Magyari in 444, a critical news portal.