The new emergency law passed in Hungary has made waves in the international press, and rightly, though much of the coverage has been inaccurate.
For example, the BBC on 30 March said: “The Hungarian Parliament has voted by 137 to 53 to accept the government’s request for the power to rule by decree during the coronavirus emergency”.
However, the 2012 Hungarian Constitution (put in place by Fidesz) already grants the power to rule by decree in a state of emergency. The new law is actually about the edicts that are issued during a state of emergency.
A state of emergency legally lasts until the reasons for its declaration (in this case, the pandemic) are no longer present. Generally, an edict proclaimed during this state of emergency lasts for 15 days unless the parliament votes to extend it.
The new law extended the duration of edicts beyond 15 days to the end of the state of emergency.
Parliament will still convene, and will continue to vote on non-emergency laws.
Indeed, things have been moving quickly on that front. Deputy prime minister Zsolt Semlyén, the deputy prime minister proposed a package just one day after the new emergency law. It includes, among other things, curtailing the right to legally change one’s gender, reducing the independence of theatres in the capital, and providing free real estate to a foundation belonging to Mária Schmidt, a historian belonging to Fidesz’s orbit.
The proposal also included a motion to place groups of commissars above mayors to vet local emergency measures, but that was dropped.
Such are the legislations parliament will continue to vote on.
The difference between the needs of the people and the priorities of Fidesz was highlighted a few days later with news that starvation has set in in Borsod, the poorest county of Hungary, home to a significant Roma population.
Government response to the economic shock has been dismal. In March 30 to 40,000 lost their jobs, and the government has offered no support to those out of work. Orbán asked: “Can we give everyone 50-100 thousand Forints (the equivalent of £120-240) without regard to achievement? Is this a good idea?”
The minimum wage in Hungary is 161 thousand Forints (£388 a month).
The government claims that instead of handing out money it is trying to make sure that no one is out of work in three months’ time.
Three months is a long time to spend without food.