Hungary's ruling party to curtail freedom of action, access for MPs

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives at a European Union summit

By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s Parliament will begin discussing on Wednesday a bill that restricts its members’ freedom of action, a ruling party proposal that has led to renewed accusations of authoritarianism on the part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Under the bill, MPs will no longer be able to show up unannounced at public institutions or government-owned companies and demand documents, losing an element of surprise.

Breaking house protocol will carry penalties of up to 60 days’ exclusion from parliamentary premises and loss of up to 12 months of pay.

The bill is another instance of Orban’s ruling party, Fidesz, tightening its hold on Hungary, a process that has been going on for a decade. The European Union has investigated rule of law concerns in Hungary and could suspend the country’s EU voting rights.

MPs critical of the government say the bill is a further erosion of democratic checks and balances.

"This is clearly a rights violation for MPs," independent MP Akos Hadhazy, a vocal anti-corruption advocate, told Reuters. "They don’t strip us of our rights: they strip millions of citizens that we represent."

At the 2018 parliament elections, 2.8 million Hungarians voted for Fidesz and 2.9 million for other groups. Hungary’s population is just under 10 million.

Orban and Fidesz have denied exerting outsized control, pointing to three general election victories and a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Fidesz’s hold on power may be weakening, though. Major cities -- including the capital, Budapest -- handed power to an opposition alliance in municipal elections last month.

The bill's proponents say it's intended to preserve Parliament’s honour and efficiency, not stifle criticism. But Fidesz group leader Mate Kocsis posted the news on Facebook, adding: "Anarchists, attention! Parliament violence and obscenity will be penalized.”

The comments come after Hadhazy held up signs during a recent Orban speech in Parliament, including: "He must lie to cover up all his thieving.”

Orban, whose family and friends have been among the greatest beneficiaries of public procurement and saw their wealth skyrocket in the past decade, has consistently denied having any business interests.

Bernadett Szel, another independent opposition MP, called the bill "a brutal attack on opposition politics and parties in Hungary ... But an abuse of power is never a sign of strength; on the contrary: one of weakness."

(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King)