Hungarian PM Orban insists on special powers to handle virus crisis, mulls lockdown

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told parliament on Monday his cabinet wanted to extend its emergency powers to tackle the coronavirus crisis and he rejected opposition calls for setting a limit to how long they would last.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a business conference in Budapest, Hungary, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

Justice Minister Judit Varga submitted legislation to parliament on Friday that would extend the state of emergency indefinitely.

It would also impose prison sentences of up to five years on those hindering measures that are aimed at containing the spread of the virus and also on those spreading false information.

Opposition parties told parliament that while they supported the government’s efforts to manage the crisis, they want a 90-day limit to the government’s special powers, which parliament could extend again if necessary. They also urged online voting if parliament cannot convene for some reason.

Orban has been often in conflict with the European Union, and rights organization over his perceived erosion of democratic checks and balances and the rule of law.

“You are asking authorization, without any time limits ... which is unprecedented in Europe,” Timea Szabo, lawmaker of the opposition party Parbeszed (Dialogue) said.

The leftist Socialists and the Democratic Coalition (DK) also said they could not back the legislation with infinite special powers to pass decrees.

Nationalist Orban, who has been in power since 2010 with a strong mandate, said the opposition’s accusations were unjustified and urged his ruling Fidesz party to push through measures in parliament with its two-thirds mandate, saying he needed “133 brave men” now.

He said parliament would have the right to withdraw the special powers at any point.

“We will resolve this crisis without you, even of you do not support this bill,” Orban told the opposition lawmakers.

He also said the government was weighing the option of a national lockdown to combat the coronavirus.

The government declared a state of emergency on March 11 which was valid for 15 days and now aims to extend it. To pass the bill in an accelerated procedure, it needs support of 80% of lawmakers in parliament. A Fidesz lawmaker has said if it does not get this mandate, it will pass the bill nonetheless next week.

The number of confirmed cases stood at 167 on Monday and seven people have died.

Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Angus MacSwan