Hungary’s President Resigns Amid Public Outrage over Handling of Child Sexual Abuse Case

Hungary’s President Resigns

FILE: On April 28, 2023, in the former Carmelite Monastery in Budapest, Hungary, Pope Francis meets with representatives of the government, the diplomatic community, and civil society. Hungarian President Katalin Novàk makes her remarks during the meeting. Amidst public outcry over a pardon she gave to a man found guilty of being an accomplice in a case of child sexual abuse, Hungary’s conservative president resigned. This move caused an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist administration. On Saturday, February 10, 2024, Katalin Novák, 46, declared via a broadcast speech that she would be resigning from her position as president, which she has held since 2022. (AP Photo/Pool, File, Andrew Medichini)

Hungary’s president resigns on Saturday amidst public outcry over the pardon granted to a convicted individual in a child sexual abuse case, triggering an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government.

46-year-old Katalin Novak announced in a televised message that she would step down from the presidency, a position she has held since 2022. Her decision came after more than a week of public outrage when it was revealed that she had granted clemency in April to a person convicted of concealing a series of child sexual abuse incidents at a government-run children’s home.

Novak stated on Saturday, “I have issued an apology, which has caused anxiety and unrest to many people. I made a mistake.”

Novak’s resignation came as a rare event in the history of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, which has governed with a constitutional majority since 2010. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Fidesz has faced allegations of undermining democratic institutions and electoral fraud. The media has been largely supportive of these allegations.

Novak, a prominent Orban ally and former deputy chair of Fidesz, served in her role as president after working as a minister for families, advocating for traditional family values and children’s welfare.

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

However, her tenure ended after granting a pardon to a person who had served more than three years in prison for sexually abusing at least ten children between 2004 and 2016. Novak faced criticism for retracting her support for the victims of sexual abuse, which she had previously voiced in April last year.

“In April of last year, I decided to accept the perpetrator’s claim that he did not abuse the authority he was given to protect the children. On Saturday, Novak stated, “I was wrong.” “I apologize to those whom I have hurt and to the victims who may feel that I failed to stand up for them.”

“I am speaking to you today as the head of state for the last time. I resign from the position of President of the Republic,” she said.

Another key figure in Fidesz, Judith Varga, who was the justice minister at the time, was also implicated in the scandal and supported the pardon. With the upcoming elections, there was hope that Varga would lead the list of European Parliament candidates for Fidesz.

Varga, however, declared on Saturday in a Facebook post that she would assume political responsibility and “retire from public life, resigning as a member of parliament and leader of the EP list.”

Plans were made to organize protests at the presidential headquarters in Budapest on Saturday evening to call for Novak’s resignation, with nearly 200 people gathering.

After her announcement, attendees expressed satisfaction, but many felt that it was not enough to fundamentally change Orban’s governance system.

“I am glad she resigned, but I think things don’t get resolved like this. She is not the main culprit; you have to look higher up,” said Anna Bujna.

Another participant, Erzsebet Zapunzazse, said she was “very, very happy” with Novak’s resignation, but “like many others in this government, she should have resigned from the very first moment, because she is not alone.”

“Her resignation was right, as it prevents her from further alienating herself from more people and becoming angry at the fact that she has represented this country so far,” Zapunzazse added.

Fidesz enjoys strong support among Hungary’s political factions, and a fractured opposition has contributed to their consecutive electoral victories. Criticism has been raised within the block for blocking important decisions such as supporting Ukraine and including Sweden in the NATO military alliance.

On Saturday, the head of Fidesz’s parliamentary group, Mate Kocsis, said in a statement that Novak and Varga had made a “responsible decision,” and the party is grateful for their work.

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