Hungary will seek to remove the unfettered power of far-right nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban next month in an attempt to bring to an end a backslide away from democracy in the central European state.

Mr Orban was granted the right to rule by decree throughout the coronavirus crisis – leaving no check on his power for an unlimited period of time in a move that brought the state to the brink of dictatorship under the strongman leader.

However after initially being approved by Budapest’s parliament, where Mr Orban’s party holds a two thirds majority, the government has prepared a bill to rescind the autocratic power of the leader by 20 June.

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In the face of criticism from the European Union, which calls for democratic rule in all member states, Mr Orban defended his absolute power in the country by arguing it was necessary to tackle the virus which has claimed the lives of at least 499 people within the state and infected more than 3,700.

He has since said parliament could at any time cancel the special powers to manage the country without their consent – with government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs saying the right to rule by decree went “hand in hand” with the nation’s state of emergency – implying both could be rescinded together.

It comes amid concern Mr Orban’s lunge for power had made him the EU’s first dictator – further exacerbating tensions between eastern and western states on the continent.

While not directly criticising the country, EU president Ursula von Der Leyen said last month of the continent’s coronavirus response “I am concerned that certain measures go too far – and I’m particularly concerned with the situation in Hungary”.

Justice Minister Judit Varga, announcing the 20 June target for lifting the emergency in a Facebook post, described the international criticism levelled at Hungary from democracies around the world as “unfounded attacks”.

She added: “We expect (our critics) to apologise for waging a smear campaign instead of cooperating on defence (against the coronavirus).”

However while offering explanations focussed on the virus, the PM has also managed to carry out policy in line with his nationalist agenda – with his latest decree requiring government approval for major foreign stakes in domestic firms until the end of 2020.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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