Hungary's President Katalin Novak has resigned due to pressure from the opposition and government. She had pardoned a man who had been convicted of aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of minors. This sparked widespread outrage.
"I made a mistake," Novak said in a video broadcast by Hungarian state television. She has served as head of state since May 2022. Just a few hours before her resignation, Novak had returned early to Budapest from an official visit to the Gulf Emirate of Qatar. Thousands of demonstrators demanded her resignation in Budapest on Friday evening.
Orban wants to change the constitution
The right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently publicly distanced himself from his former political colleague Novak. He quickly introduced a proposal for a constitutional amendment to parliament, according to which criminals whose victims are children should never be pardoned.
Orban's government particularly wants to be seen as a protector of children from sexual violence. In 2021, she implemented a controversial “child protection law” that prohibits children from being educated about homosexuality in schools. Distributors of relevant publications are also obliged to make them inaccessible to minors. Critics say the spirit of this law equates homosexuality with pedophilia.
The man pardoned by Novak was the deputy head of a children's home in Bicske near Budapest. According to the court ruling, he forced children to recant their testimonies as victims of abuse against the home director in order to exonerate his boss. He had known about the acts of abuse for years. The home director was sentenced to eight years in prison. His pardoned deputy received a prison sentence of three years and four months.
The pardon had already taken place in April 2023, on the occasion of Pope Francis' visit to Budapest. But it only became known through media reports a week ago.
Resignation plays into Orban's hands
In Hungary, heads of state play a subordinate political role. They are elected by parliament, usually on the recommendation of the strongest party. The Prime Minister suggested filling this position with Novak, who had previously been the leading politician in Orban's Fidesz party.
Orban is likely to be satisfied with her resignation because Novak has not always represented government policy in recent times. On several occasions she was clearly critical of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, while Orban maintains good relations with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. Novak also spoke out in favor of a quick ratification of Sweden's NATO accession by Hungary's parliament, which Orban has delayed.