Autocrats-Coronavirus Alliance: Orban‘s Power Grab Shows Way for Wannabe Dictators

Written by | Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Hungary’s parliament on Monday (30 March) passed a bill that has greatly increased the power of the country’s far-right prime minister Victor Orban in a move critics are calling a power grab.Orban has asked to extend a national state of emergency that would give his government the right to pass special decrees in response to the coronavirus outbreak, arguing the move is necessary to fight the spread of coronavirus.Lawmakers passed the bill with 137 votes against 52 in Hungary’s lower chambre, in which Orban’s Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority. Hungary previously prolonged a state of emergency for several years when it extended measures introduced in 2015 over fear of mass migration, despite a decrease in the number of migrants coming to the country.
The bill has been criticised by opposition politicians, human rights groups, and Europe’s leading human rights organization the Council of Europe because, as Dávid Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary director, warned, “This bill would create an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency and give Viktor Orbán and his government carte blanche to restrict human rights.” But at the time when anxious citizens demand action, it is not just Orban but also many other leaders around the globewho have invoked executive powers and legislation to expand their reach during the pandemic. For example, British ministers have what a critic called “eye-watering” power to detain people and close borders. Israel’s prime minister has shuttered courts and begun an intrusive surveillance of citizens, Chile has sent the military to public squares while Bolivia has postponed elections.
Governments and rights groups agree that these extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, but critics warn governments in a broad range of political systems –in authoritarian states like Jordan, faltering democracies like Hungary, and traditional democracies like Britain – are exploit the public health crisis as an excuse to seize new powers that have little to do with the outbreak, with few safeguards to ensure that their new authority will not be abused.The pandemic is already redefining norms. Invasive surveillance systems in South Korea and Singapore, which would have invited censure under normal circumstances, have been praised for slowing infections. And now even Western governments that initially criticized China for putting millions of its citizens under lockdown have since followed suit.
Thus now even many Europeans may now fear that Chinese-style surveillance is coming to their neighborhood. From tracing people’s movements through cellphones to drones shouting orders at park-goers, European governments are now eagerly embracing sophisticated surveillance tools that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago. In the EU, which boasts the world’s strictest privacy legislation, leaders have taken the unprecedented step of asking telecoms companies to hand over mobile phone data so they can track population movements to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But the European Commission has gone even further when it proposed all such data to be centralized to speed up prevention across the bloc.

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