European Union tells Hungary: Kill the virus, not democracy

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban center his deputy Zsolt Semjen and other government members and MPs of the governing Fidesz party vote on a draft law concerning extraordinary measures during the plenary session of the Parliament in Budapest Hunga

"The extraordinary measures are related to the pandemic, to its prevention, its elimination and the prevention of the damaging economic consequences", said Csaba Domotor, a deputy minister in Orban's Cabinet Office.

The opposition parties say they are united in the fight against COVID-19, but say none of the governments in the European Union has asked for and received limitless powers. The law not only gives him absolute power but the so called "emergency measures" have no end date and impose chilling penalties on speech, journalists and anyone found violating quarantine.

"This bill, once signed into law, will nearly certainly put even greater pressure on what's left of Hungary's independent media", noted Emily Tamkin of the New Statesman.

But critics are fearful, saying it has no time limit or parliamentary oversight.

"Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate".

"In doing so, it was also protecting Europe's borders". Orban and his centre-right Fidesz party have always been involved in a systematic dismantling of institutional checks and balances, seperations of powers, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and media freedom. "Democracy must be present and fundamental rights of people must not be put aside". He said it would be the largest action of its kind in Hungarian history.

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"Parliament, as the legislative body representing the people, practically will be in recess from now on". "In the absence of the proper function of parliament, civic control of the government and its institutions - especially by the press, civic groups, and human rights watchdogs - becomes more valuable".

The opposition parties were also critical of the government's refusal to consider allowing lawmakers to vote from home.

Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, center right, delivers his speech about the current state of the coronavirus outbreak during a plenary session in the House of Parliament in Budapest, Hungary.

The new law has indefinitely extended the state of emergency which was declared in the country on March 11.

In case the parliament is suspended, due to the pandemic, the government will brief the speaker of the assembly and the heads of party groups, raising concerns that the parliament could be sidelined.

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