On Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban effectively became the world’s newest dictator when the country’s parliament voted to suspend elections and granted him the power to rule by decree with no time limit.
“At this point, Hungary is a full-on dictatorship – no if, ands, or buts. This was simply the last step in the process,” Sheri Berman, a political scientist at Barnard College, told Insider.
But experts on authoritarianism say that while Hungary presents a particularly concerning case in terms of leaders exploiting the crisis, it is not unique.
“Authoritarian leaders, whether in authoritarian regimes (e.g., China and Venezuela) or in (nominal) democracies (e.g., Israel and UK), are using the coronavirus crisis, like most crises, to strengthen their grip on power and weaken dissent and opposition,” Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, told Insider.
The coronavirus pandemic has morphed Hungary into a full-blown authoritarian state, as autocratic leaders around the world are exploiting panic and fear surrounding the virus to consolidate power and dismantle democracy, according to experts.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday was granted sweeping emergency powers by the country’s parliament to combat the coronavirus, giving him the right to rule by decree indefinitely (the power to bypass the national assembly) and suspend existing laws. The European Union member has also suspended future elections, effectively eradicating democracy in the country and making Orban the world’s newest dictator.
Orban, one of Europe’s most controversial leaders who’s garnered a reputation for Islamophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, was already widely considered to be a populist authoritarian and an enemy to democratic values.
“At this point, Hungary is a full-on dictatorship. No if, ands, or buts. This was simply the last step in the process,” Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College and author of “Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe,” told Insider.
Hungary’s new law also includes harsh penalties – up to five years in prison – for anyone the Hungarian government decides has disseminated “false” information.
Human-rights groups and top European officials have expressed grave concern about Orban’s new powers.