In a surprising turn of events, Hungarian President Katalin Novak announced her resignation on Saturday. The decision came after mounting pressure for her controversial pardon of a man convicted of aiding in the cover-up of sexual abuse in a children’s home. Novak, known to be a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, stepped down a week after local news site 444.hu first reported on her presidential pardon. This revelation caused a public uproar, leading to widespread calls from the opposition for both Novak and former Justice Minister Judit Varga to resign. Varga, a rising star in Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, made the decision to step down as a lawmaker on Saturday. The scandal has dealt a rare setback to Orban, who has been in power since 2010, especially as the country is preparing for European parliament elections and emerging from an inflation crisis.
During her televised resignation announcement, Novak admitted her mistake, saying, “I made a mistake… Today is the last day that I address you as a president.” Although Novak’s role as president is largely ceremonial, her decision to grant the pardon without proper reasoning triggered doubts over the zero tolerance policy that Hungary has in place regarding paedophilia. She further explained that her decision to grant the pardon had been made based on the belief that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children under his supervision. However, she now recognizes that the lack of reasoning in her decision has created doubts among the public.
This scandal ignited widespread public backlash, leading to demands for Novak’s resignation from Hungarian opposition parties. On Friday, approximately one thousand demonstrators gathered at Novak’s office, calling for her immediate resignation. In an attempt to contain the political damage, Prime Minister Orban personally submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament that same week. This amendment aimed to strip the president of the right to pardon crimes committed against children, a move that many political analysts interpreted as a clear message to Novak.
Resignations and Political Consequences
Following Novak’s resignation, Judit Varga, who also signed off on the controversial pardon, announced her decision to step down as a member of Fidesz and as a lawmaker. Varga was expected to lead Fidesz’s list in the upcoming European parliament elections, but she willingly took responsibility for her part in this scandal. Mate Kocsis, the head of Fidesz’s parliamentary group, referred to the decisions made by Novak and Varga as “responsible” and stated that the party would respect their choices. Despite the scandal, Fidesz continues to lead in opinion polls ahead of the June elections, although a significant portion of voters remain undecided.
For Prime Minister Orban, this scandal and the ensuing resignations have undoubtedly dealt a blow to his political agenda. Orban has been a vocal advocate for protecting children from what he describes as the influence of LGBTQ activists in schools. This, among other issues, has brought him into conflict with the European Commission. However, with the country emerging from an inflation crisis and facing crucial European parliament elections, this scandal could potentially undermine the public’s trust in Orban’s leadership and his party, Fidesz. It remains to be seen how this setback will impact the political landscape in Hungary.
The resignation of Hungarian President Katalin Novak not only reflects a significant lack of judgment on her part but also brings into question the accountability and integrity within Hungary’s political system. The scandal surrounding the presidential pardon for a man convicted of covering up sexual abuse in a children’s home has caused public outrage and demands for accountability. While Novak has taken responsibility for her mistake, the political consequences extend beyond her resignation. This incident has undoubtedly affected the standing of Prime Minister Orban and his party, Fidesz, as Hungary faces upcoming elections and navigates the aftermath of an inflation crisis. The true impact of this scandal on Hungary’s political landscape remains to be seen.