Hungary’s President Steps Down Over Pardon Scandal

Hungary's President Steps Down Over Pardon Scandal

( – Hungary’s President has resigned amid a scandal involving a pardon she issued to a man convicted of child abuse offenses. Katalin Novák announced her resignation in a televised address, during which she took responsibility for the scandal, which she said had caused “bewilderment.” She added that the pardon was a “mistake.”

The announcement came after weeks of public outrage surrounding a pardon issued in April 2023 to a man convicted of concealing child sex abuse inside a state-run children’s institution. “In April last year, I decided in favor of clemency in the belief that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him,” she said before adding that she was incorrect.

Judit Varga, Hungary’s European Affairs Committee chair, simultaneously stated that she would also step down “from public life” for her role in the affair – she had countersigned the President’s pardon.

The incident is a rare moment of political turmoil in the usually steady country that has run relatively smoothly under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s leadership since 2010. Novák was a long-term Orbán ally who previously served as vice president of Fidesz, the country’s governing political party. The scandal was deepened due to Novák’s long history of outspoken support for traditional family values and child protection.

The pardon involved a man who was sentenced to three years in prison for pressuring victims, abused by the director of a children’s institution, to withdraw their claims. The director was jailed for eight years for abusing children in his care between 2004 and 2016.

Ms. Novák was on an official trip to Qatar when aides informed her that a protest had erupted outside her offices, with demonstrators demanding her resignation. She cut the trip short, returned to Hungary, and quickly stepped down. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Orbán rushed through legislation removing the ability of Presidents to grant such pardons.

László Kövér, the speaker of Hungary’s parliament, will take over as interim President until a replacement is elected.

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