Hungary’s president resigns amid uproar over pardon of man convicted of child sex abuse

Hungary’s conservative president resigned on Saturday amid public outcry over the pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sex abuse case, a decision that unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government.

Katalin Novak, 46, announced in a televised message that she will step down from the presidential position she has held since 2022. Her decision came after more than a week of public anger after it was revealed that she had issued a presidential pardon last April. 2023 for a man convicted of covering up a series of child sexual assaults at a state-run children’s home.

“I issued an amnesty that caused confusion and confusion among many people,” Novak said on Saturday. “I made a mistake.”

Novak’s resignation came as a rare episode of political turmoil for Hungary’s ruling nationalist Fidesz party, which has governed with a constitutional majority since 2010. Under the leadership of populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Fidesz has been accused of dismantling democratic institutions and rigging the electoral system. And the media is in its favour.

Novak, Orban’s main ally and former Fidesz party vice president, served as Minister of Family Affairs until her appointment to the presidency. She was frank In defense of traditional family values ​​and the protection of children.

The person is photographed from the chest up.
Novak in January attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Gian Erenzeler/Keystone/The Associated Press)

She was the first female president in Hungary’s history, and the youngest person ever to hold that position.

Her term ended as a result of her decision to pardon a man who was sentenced in 2018 to more than three years in prison. He was convicted of pressuring victims to retract their allegations of sexual abuse by the institution’s director, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for assaulting at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.

“I decided in favor of a pardon in April last year, believing that the convict did not exploit the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him. I made a mistake,” Novak said on Saturday. “I apologize to those I have hurt and to any victims who may have felt I was not standing up for them.

“As head of state, I address you for the last time today. I resign from the position of President of the Republic,” she said.

Two people looking at each other during a ceremony.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, center, stands next to Novak, left, at Sandor Palace in Budapest in April 2023. (Remo Caselli/Reuters)

Judit Varga, another key Fidesz figure who was Minister of Justice at the time and supported the amnesty, was also implicated. Varga was expected to top Fidesz’s list of European Parliament candidates when elections are held this summer.

But Varga announced in a Facebook post on Saturday that she would take political responsibility and “retire from public life, resigning from my seat as a Member of Parliament and also as leader of the European Parliament list.”

“You have to look up”

At the presidential residence in Budapest on Saturday evening, about 200 people gathered in what was originally planned to be a protest to call on Novak to resign.

After its announcement, those present said they were happy, but that was not enough to bring about a radical change in Orban’s system of government.

Anna Bogna said: “I am happy that she resigned, but I think things are not resolved that way. She is not the main criminal, you have to look at the top.”

A crowd of demonstrators clapping and chanting.
Protesters gather in front of Sándor Palace, the office of the Hungarian president, in Budapest on Saturday. (Denis Erdos/The Associated Press)

Erzbet Zabonzai, one of the attendees, said she was “very, very happy” about Novak’s resignation, but “she should have resigned from the first moment, like many people in this government, because she is not alone.”

She added: “Her resignation was correct, because in this way she saves herself from more people who hate her and feel angry because she represents this country until now.”

Orban’s Fidesz party enjoys the highest level of support among Hungary’s political parties, and a divided opposition has contributed to its four consecutive electoral victories.

His government, considered the most Kremlin-friendly in the European Union, has been criticized within the bloc for holding up key decisions such as support for Ukraine and Sweden’s admission into the NATO military alliance.

On Saturday, the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, Matej Kocsis, said in a statement that Novak and Varga had made a “responsible decision,” and that the party was grateful for their work.

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