No, Hungary is not becoming a dictatorship. Here is why.

A storm of criticism has hit the Hungarian government after the Parliament passed a bill on the coronavirus containment effort. 

Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has been accused of crushing democratic ideals, of posing an existential threat to the very foundations, values & integrity of the EU, of marginalising critics and the political opposition and that the state of emergency has been set with absolutely no time limit.

Former Italian PM Matteo Renzi asked to expel Hungary from the European Union and Liberal party Guy Verhofstadt called Hungary’s Orban a ‘dictator’.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warns that coronavirus emergency measures taken by EU countries must be “limited,” referring to Orban’s new law.

But what does the law say exactly ?

  • The law had to be approved by the Parliament and it passed with 137 votes for and 53 against.
  • It declared a state of emergency.
  • It empowered the government to pass decrees to face the coronavirus emergency.
  • The Parliament can revoke the authorization accorded to the government at any time it sees appropriate.
  • The bill cannot and does not contain any restrictions on the activities of the Parliament;
  • The government is required to keep Parliament at its sittings informed about the measures adopted with a view to eliminating the state of emergency.
  • The authorization that is given to the government is also limited: it may only adopt exceptional measures that are necessary and proportionate in the context of the coronavirus pandemic to protect citizens’ life, health and security.
  • Rule of law is not suspended.
  • The Constitutional Court is fully operational under the supervision of the President and Secretary General.
  • Concerning the elections, no by-elections can be held during the state of emergency, and any already scheduled elections will be cancelled. Postponed elections must be scheduled within 15 days of the end of the state of emergency. 
  • Only intentional false statements made to the general public that could obstruct or frustrate defense efforts against the pandemic would be sanctioned.
  • Anyone who makes preparations for hindering a disease control measure is punishable with imprisonment for up to one year. 
  • A person who, during the special legal order, utters or publishes before the public at large a statement they know to be false which is capable of hindering or frustrating the effectiveness of the containment effort is punishable by imprisonment for one to five years.

The issue that the Parliament is controlled by Fidesz MPs was also raised but government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said: “the governing parties have a two-thirds majority in the democratically elected parliament – a mandate given to them by the Hungarian voters.  So why would the government want to dissolve parliament?”

According to recent polls, 90% of Hungarians say that the state of danger which introduced the extraordinary legal measures should be extended. On the question of how long, nearly 60% say that the state of danger and the extraordinary measures should be extended until the end of the pandemic.

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