Hungary’s Orban says he could give up extra powers in weeks

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, right, speaks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, May 15, 2020. Orban is on a one-day official visit to Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia — Hungary’s prime minister said Friday that he expects to soon give up the extraordinary powers to rule by decree on matters related to the pandemic that he was granted by Parliament in March.

Viktor Orban has been the target of strong criticism, including by the European Parliament, because no time limit was set on the state of emergency which granted him the vast powers.

Orban said Friday during a visit to neighboring Serbia that he was convinced countries which gave their leaders “good powers” during the pandemic were more successful in combating the coronavirus than those that “could not step out of the usual political decision-making mechanism.”

Orban said the special powers, which he said he would give up “around the end of May,” had helped Hungary’s response to the pandemic.

“We successfully defended our homeland and our performance is comparable to any country’s,” Orban said after a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. “We did this within a democratic framework and … we will return to the usual parliamentary order.”

Orban also said once he gives up his ability to rule by decree, “we will give everyone the opportunity to apologize to Hungary for the false accusations they made against us in the past months.”

Vucic said at the joint news conference that he would never say anything against Orban and his policies just to get praise and support “from the left-wing liberal European circles and foreign media.”

“It never crossed my mind,” Vucic said. “I have my dignity and pride.”

Like Orban, Vucic has been criticized by EU officials for sidelining parliament and virtually ruling by decree as his government adopted some of the harshest lockdown measures in Europe.

The two allies have met at least three times during the past two months.

Hungary, with a population of nearly 10 million, has reported 3,417 coronavirus cases, with 442 deaths. Serbia, population 7 million, has had 10,438 cases and 225 deaths.