Hungary’s first female president, Katalin Novak, resigned on Saturday following growing pressure to pardon a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse at a children’s home.
Novak, 46, a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, resigned just a week after his presidential pardon was first reported.
The revelation sparked a public uproar and demands from the opposition for her and former Justice Minister Judit Varga to resign. Varga, a rising star in Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, resigned as a lawmaker on Saturday.
The scandal was a rare setback for Orban, who has been in power since 2010 and faces elections to the European Parliament just as the country emerges from an inflation crisis.
Orban has campaigned for years to protect children from what he described as LGBTQ activists roaming the country’s schools. This has been one of several issues over which Orban has clashed with the European Commission.
Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigned on Saturday after coming under increasing pressure to pardon a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse.
Protesters with banners take part in a demonstration in Budapest in front of the presidential offices.
Novak, a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, resigned just a week after his presidential pardon was first reported.
“I made a mistake… Today is the last day I address you as president,” Novak, whose role as president is largely ceremonial, said in announcing his resignation on state television.
He cut short an official visit to Qatar and returned unexpectedly to Budapest on Saturday.
‘I made the decision to grant clemency last April believing that the convicted man did not abuse the vulnerability of the children he had supervised. “I made a mistake, since the pardon and lack of reasoning were appropriate to raise doubts about the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia,” he said.
Novak, the youngest person to serve as president, pardoned a group of 25 people last year as part of a visit by Pope Francis, whose name was revealed last week.
Among the identified criminals was Endre K., a psychologist and deputy director of a children’s home near Budapest, who was jailed for three years after forcing abused children to recant their accusations against the home’s director.
The director himself was jailed for eight years for abuses at the government-run facilities.
The pardon means that Endre K., whose full name did not appear in Hungarian media due to its privacy laws, is now free and could, in theory, be allowed to return to his profession.
This week, Hungarian opposition parties had demanded Novak’s resignation over the case and on Friday, a thousand protesters demonstrated in front of Novak’s office demanding his resignation.
Protesters demonstrated again against the policy hours before his resignation. One was seen carrying a sign that, in Hungarian, read: “Bastard.”
In an attempt to contain the political damage, Orban personally presented a constitutional amendment to parliament late on Thursday depriving the president of the right to pardon crimes committed against children. Some political analysts interpreted that measure as a clear message to Novak.
One protester was seen holding a sign that, in Hungarian, read: “Bastard.”
Protesters outside the presidential offices on February 10, 2024
Fidesz leads opinion polls ahead of June elections, but nearly a third of voters are undecided
On Saturday, Judit Varga, who was expected to top the Fidesz list for the elections and who also approved the pardon, said on Facebook that she would resign as a Fidesz deputy, taking responsibility for her decision.
“I renounce public life, I renounce my mandate as a legislator and also the first place on the European party list,” Varga said.
Fidesz parliamentary group head Mate Kocsis said Novak and Varga made “responsible” decisions that the party would respect.
Fidesz leads opinion polls ahead of June elections, but around a third of voters are undecided.
More to follow.