Hundreds call on Viktor Orbán to step down over child sex abuse pardon

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban Copyright Denes Erdos/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Denes Erdos/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews
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The Hungarian leader is facing the greatest political crisis of his 14-year premiership.

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Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets of Budapest calling on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to step down, after a presidential pardon in a child sexual abuse case sparked outrage across the country.

Hungary's President Katalin Novák and former Justice Minister Judit Varga stepped down over the weekend after revelations a man who covered up child sexual abuses had been pardoned by the state.

Endre K, a former deputy director of a state-run children's home, was pardoned by President Novák last year ahead of a visit by Pope Francis. The pardon was made public earlier this February.

The scandal has rocked Hungary's political elite and represents the biggest threat to Orbán's grip on power since he took office in 2010.

Both Novák and Varga were among Orbán's closest allies, and symbols of the conservative, Christian values that his government promotes. They were among the few high-ranking women in his otherwise male-dominated political circle.

Pope Franci is welcomed by Hungary President Katalin Novák and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, April 2023
Pope Franci is welcomed by Hungary President Katalin Novák and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, April 2023Andrew Medichini/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

While Orbán has so far kept silent on the issue, pressure is now mounting on the prime minister.

There have been few such episodes of turmoil in Orbán's premiership. He has consolidated his own and his Fidesz party's popularity by passing laws designed to silence critics and curb media freedom.

Judit Varga, the then justice minister who endorsed the pardon, was due to lead Fidesz' list for the upcoming European elections in June.

An outspoken critic of Brussels, her downfall is seen as a setback to Orbán ahead of the ballot, where according to polls his party could increase its already impressive seat number from 13 to 14.

In a sign of potential unraveling within the ruling party, Péter Magyar, Varga's ex-husband and a close ally of the government, publicly denounced the country's political elite.

In an interview with Partizan YouTube channel, he levelled serious allegations of corruption and cronyism against the government.

"This cannot go on," Magyar said, questioning whether it was normal “a few families" owned "half the country."

Former Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga
Former Hungarian justice minister Judit VargaOlivier Matthys/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

Orbán secured a fourth term in office in 2022 when his Fidesz party won 53.7% of the popular vote in the general election.

His sceptical stance on Western support for Ukraine and his Hungary-first policies have helped him consolidate power.

But his provocative foreign policy strategies have recently sparked backlash, particularly in Brussels. Orbán threatened to singlehandedly derail the EU's €50-billion aid package to Ukraine at a December summit, before rowing back on his threats in February. He is also holding up the ratification of Sweden's NATO membership.

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