Hungarian PM's power to rule by decree to end on June 20: government

FILE PHOTO: New Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga speaks during an interview with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Krisztina Than/File Photo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary aims to lift a state of emergency spurred by the coronavirus crisis on June 20, its justice minister said on Tuesday, as the government prepared a bill ending the power to rule by decree which drew international condemnation.

Right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban obtained the powers without a time limit in a vote by parliament where his party holds a two-thirds majority, drawing European Union criticism about democratic backsliding in Budapest.

Orban said earlier that parliament could at any time cancel the special powers to manage the country without parliament’s consent, which he said were necessary to curb the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fall-out.

Asked to clarify whether that meant the special powers would also end on June 20 in addition to the standard state of emergency invoked to tackle a crisis, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the two “by definition go hand in hand.”

Justice Minister Judit Varga, announcing the June 20 target for lifting the emergency in a Facebook post, described the international criticism as “unfounded attacks”. She added: “We expect (our critics) to apologise for waging a smear campaign instead of cooperating on defence (against the coronavirus).”

Parliament, dominated by Orban’s Fidesz party, was expected to vote to rescind his emergency powers in the coming weeks.

Hungary reported a total of 3,771 coronavirus cases and 499 deaths as of Tuesday, fairly low numbers compared with other EU countries due to an early and strict lockdown, which the government has been gradually easing since early May.

Orban’s power to rule by decree continued with parliament in session. His latest decree stipulated government approval for major foreign stakes in domestic firms until the end of 2020.

Orban, who has extended his influence over most walks of life in the central European country during his decade in power, faces his toughest challenge as the economy is expected to slide into a coronavirus-induced recession this year.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich