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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024

Hungarian President Katalin Novák Steps Down Amid Pardon Controversy

Katalin Novák stepped down after pardoning a man convicted of helping cover up sex abuse
The Hungarian president has announced her resignation over her decision to pardon a man convicted of helping cover up a sex abuse case at a children’s home as the controversy posed a challenge for Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

The pardon decision was made last year but only caught the public’s attention over the past days after a report by the local news site, which was met with outrage, leading Hungary’s opposition to call for Katalin Novák to step down.

“I made a mistake,” Novák said in a televised address aired on Saturday, when she announced her resignation and issued an apology to any victims who felt she had not stood with them.

László Kövér, the speaker of Hungary’s parliament and another close Orbán ally, is expected to temporarily fill the president’s responsibilities until the parliament elects a new president.

The controversy posed a political headache for Orbán, who has campaigned on family-friendly policies and presented himself as an advocate for children’s protection.

Novák, who became president in 2022, also branded herself as a family-focused Christian conservative politician.

On Thursday, as the Orbán government faced a public backlash over the pardon, it hastily proposed a constitutional amendment to deprive the president of the ability to pardon individuals convicted of crimes against minors.

But that did not quell the public anger, prompting the president to cut short a trip abroad and announce her departure.

Novák is a former vice-president of the ruling Fidesz party, and her political downfall represents an unusual setback for Orbán, who has dominated the Hungarian political scene for more than a decade.

The Hungarian leader hoped to boost his political profile on the continent before elections for the European parliament later this year, but has faced two resignations this week.

Judit Varga, who served as justice minister at the time of the pardon and signed off on the decision, and who was expected to lead the Fidesz list in the European parliament election, also announced on Saturday that she is stepping down.

“I am withdrawing from public life, I am resigning from my mandate as a member of parliament and from the leadership of the European parliament list,” Varga said.

Máté Kocsis, the head of the Fidesz faction in the Hungarian parliament, said the two politicians “made a responsible decision”, adding: “Their resignation is proof that on the right, mistakes also have consequences.”

In a post on social media, Péter Magyar, Varga’s ex-husband and a figure with close links to government circles, announced that he was resigning his positions in state-owned companies. “I don’t want for one minute to be a part of a system in which the real people responsible hide behind women’s skirts,” he wrote.

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