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Fresh wave of protests against Hungarian ‘slave laws’

Opposition demands include judicial independence and less overtime

Protestors march against a proposed new labour law, billed as the 'slave law'.' Reuters
Protestors march against a proposed new labour law, billed as the 'slave law'.' Reuters

A rising opposition movement in the Hungarian capital Budapest is threatening to move nationwide to capitalise on a wave of protests that have seen a member of parliament hospitalised and others manhandled on camera.

Crowds up to 15,000 strong have marched through the city to call for the scrapping of so-called ‘slave laws’ that increase the amount of overtime workers could be made to do to 400 hours, up from 250 a month. The new rules, enacted by the far-right leader Viktor Orban, also mean employers can withhold payment for as long as three years on overtime work. Previously, it was only a year.

The confrontation turned violent when at least 2,000 people, including 12 MPs, showed up outside the state broadcaster MTVA to voice their fury that their views were not being heard. Some camped inside MTVA and two lawmakers attempted to break into a studio to read a list of demands but were thrown out.

Reports said the marchers were angry at the state broadcaster’s pro-government line and chanted “Viktator,” seemingly a marriage of the words Viktor and dictator.

They were also enraged by a new law enacted last week that creates a parallel administrative court system tasked with dealing with cases affecting human rights, such as elections, right to asylum and assembly, and police brutality complaints. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it posed “a new threat to the independence of the country’s judiciary.”

HRW said the new courts would be at risk of “significant political interference by the executive” because the justice minister would have far-reaching powers such as selecting judges.

This would make “a mockery of the separation of powers and rule of law,” said Lydia Gall, HRW researcher for Eastern Europe and Western Balkans, in a statement. Europe’s centre-right political leadership has split in the face of demands to expel Mr Orban from the centrist movement as he centralises control.

Istvan Ujhelyi, an EU parliament member opposed to the current Hungarian government, said the demands were to withdraw the ‘slave law,’ less overtime for the police, independent judiciary and media, and joining the European public prosecutor’s office.


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Mr Orban, prime minister since 2010 and also from 1998 to 2002, has attracted support over his hardline approach to migration and conservative outlook. Detractors, however, describe him as autocratic and a threat to Hungarian democracy.

Despite the recent uproar, there is no immediate prospect of Mr Orban’s tenure in charge is at risk of ending.

His supporters have rubbished the opposition and accused them of being paid activists. They also like to accuse Mr Orban’s detractors of being supported by billionaire George Soros whose liberal and pro-migration stances are in stark contrast to the current Hungarian government.

Updated: December 18, 2018 05:31 PM