Hungary's parliament passed a bill Monday which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the right to rule by decree indefinitely in order to.
While many governments have taken emergency powers during the outbreak, no other democracy has given a leader full control like this.
The opposition argued for an end-date, but were overruled by Orbán's supporters.
Orbán defended the law, saying it "poses no threat to democracy."
Hungary's prime minister has been given absolute power by parliament in response to the coronavirus outbreak sweeping Europe.
On Monday, the country's parliament voted 137 to 53 to pass a bill that gives Prime Minister Viktor Orbán the right to rule by decree. It has no end date.
The opposition asked for a time limit on Orbán's emergency powers, but the prime minister's ruling Fidesz party had the majority to push the law through without alteration.
While governments around the globe have taken emergency powers to combat the outbreak, these powers have an expiry date.
But for Orbán, it's up to him to relinquish power.
As of Monday, there were a reported 447 cases of coronavirus in Hungary, and 15 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Critics inside Hungary and further afield have previously criticized efforts by Orbán and his party to reduce scrutiny and limits on his powers.
He declared a state of emergency in 2015 over the mass migration of refugees which followed the war in Syria, which has yet to end. Critical media outlets have closed under his rule, and others consolidated under pro-Orbán oligarchs, according to Reporters Without Borders.
He has also feuded publicly with George Soros, the US-Hungarian billionaire, over the Central European University in Budapest which Soros founded.
Ahead of the bill's passage, Daniel Hegedus, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, told Bloomberg: "In light of previous experiences with authoritarian dynamics in Hungary, once passed, the enabling act will not be rescinded anytime soon."
Zoltan Mathe/Pool via REUTERS
The bill has been in the works for weeks and faced widespread criticism. More than 100,000 people signed a petition protesting the bill, according to the BBC.
After it was passed on Monday, Orbán said it "poses no threat to democracy" and that he would use the emergency powers "proportionately and rationally."
His justice minister, Judit Varga, also defended the law, saying its scope is "limited" and only gives the prime minister the power to enact "necessary and proportionate measures" to fight COVID-19.
The European Union, of which Hungary is a member, said it is reviewing the law to make sure it's in line with the conditions of Hungary's membership, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told Politico.
Reynders said "We will verify what kind of text will be adopted ... in Hungary next week, and of course we will verify if it's in line with our vision on the rule of law and fundamental rights, and if it's needed to take an initiative."
The new law also gives the government power to jail anyone deemed to be spreading untrue or distorted facts about coronavirus for up to five years
"This bill would create an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency and give Viktor Orbán and his government carte blanche to restrict human rights," Dávid Vig, Amnesty International's Hungary director, told The Guardian.
"This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic."
An editorial in the Guardian said that the law gives Orbán "dictatorial power" and "what amounts to one-man rule in an EU state."
Lydia Gall, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. said Orbán "has seized the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine fundamental principles of democracy and rule of law in a way that is hard to reconcile as necessary for public health."
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