BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's parliament voted unanimously on Tuesday to ask the government to end to the state of danger declared because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal was supported by the opposition parties and approved by a vote of 192-0. It will be up to Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to end the state of danger, in place since March. It is expected to do so later this week.
But rights groups and opposition parties criticized a separate bill, also approved Tuesday by the legislature, which gives the government the right to declare a "public health emergency" upon the recommendation of the Hungary's chief medical officer.
In such cases, the government will get special powers — including the right to rule by decree — without the need for parliamentary approval.
Government decrees issued under such circumstances will be in effect for up to six months, but can be extended by the government because the public health emergency continues.
Watchdog groups the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Amnesty International Hungary said that this will "allow the government to again rule by decree" for an indefinite period "without even the minimal constitutional safeguards."
"It's clear that those who have been sounding the alarm that the government can and will abuse the powers it gained in relation to managing the Covid-crisis were in fact right," the watchdog groups said, calling the termination of the state of danger "nothing but an optical illusion."
The Orban government was strongly criticized when the state of danger was adopted because it did not include an end-date. Many feared Orban's rule by decree in matters related to the pandemic would last a long time.
Orban firmly rejected such claims and posted on Facebook after the vote in parliament that "those who cried dictatorship home and abroad can now extend their apologies."
Hungary, which has registered 4,077 coronavirus cases and 565 deaths, has been gradually lifting restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the pandemic. Wearing masks or face coverings is still mandatory on public transport and in closed spaces.