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Coronavirus Kills Its First Democracy

You could say that Hungary was already “immunocompromised.” A decade under the nation’s illiberal nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has corroded the state’s checks and balances, cowed the judiciary, enfeebled civil society and the free press, and reconfigured electoral politics to the advantage of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party. So, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Budapest’s ailing democracy proved all too vulnerable.

On Monday, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gave Orban sweeping emergency powers for an indefinite period of time. Parliament is closed, future elections were called off, existing laws can be suspended and the prime minister is now entitled to rule by decree. Opposition lawmakers had tried to set a time limit on the legislation but failed. Orban’s commanding two-thirds parliamentary majority made his new powers a fait accompli.

The measures were invoked as part of the government’s response to the global pandemic. Hungary had reported close to 450 cases as of Monday evening, and Orban has already cast the threat of the virus in politically convenient terms, labeling it a menace carried by unwelcome foreign migrants and yet more justification for his aggressive efforts to police the country’s borders. “Changing our lives is now unavoidable,” Orban told lawmakers last week when justifying the proposed bill. “Everyone has to leave their comfort zone. This law gives the government the power and means to defend Hungary.”

The emergency law also stipulates five-year prison sentences for Hungarians found to be spreading “false” information, as well as prison terms for those defying mandated quarantines. Critics argue that vital support for the country’s health-care system is still lacking, while Orban has given himself carte blanche to exercise even more domineering control.

Read entire article at Washington Post