The global pandemic claimed its first democracy on March 30 when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won approval from his parliament to rule Hungary indefinitely by decree. Orban’s new powers give him unlimited authority to fight the coronavirus by suspending parliament and all future elections, overriding Hungarian law and imprisoning persons found guilty of the new crimes of “violating a quarantine” and “spreading false information.”
Democratic governments all over the world are undertaking temporary emergency measures to address the pandemic crisis, but none are as sweeping as Hungary’s. Temporarily restricting freedom of movement and prescribing social distancing are reasonable limits on civil liberties aimed at containing the virus. But the Hungarian case demonstrates how the public-health crisis can be used as an excuse to promote authoritarianism far beyond the current emergency.