Hungary: President resigns over child abuse pardon scandal

The president of Hungary has announced her resignation on live television following a controversial decision to pardon a man convicted of concealing a child sexual abuse case. Last week, President Novak faced public outcry after it was revealed that she had granted clemency to an individual imprisoned for coercing children to retract sexual abuse allegations against a state-run children’s home director. Protests demanding her resignation had been escalating in Hungary.

In response to the mounting pressure, Ms. Novak publicly apologized, acknowledging her error in granting the pardon. Judit Varga, the former minister of justice who had approved the pardon and was leading the European elections campaign for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, also resigned from her position.

The controversy arose when the names of 25 individuals pardoned by Ms. Novak in April of the previous year, during a visit by Pope Francis, were disclosed by Hungarian media. Among them was the deputy director of a children’s home near Budapest, serving a three-year sentence for compelling children to retract abuse allegations against the home’s director, who himself had been sentenced to eight years for child abuse.

Despite being a popular figure in Fidesz and a rare female politician in Hungary’s male-dominated political landscape, Ms. Novak’s sudden resignation was unexpected. She had previously served as the family minister under Prime Minister Orban and became the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role of Hungarian president in 2022.

The scandal has created unprecedented political turmoil for Hungary’s longstanding nationalist government, especially for Fidesz, which has championed traditional family values in its social policies. In her televised address, Ms. Novak explained that she granted the pardon believing that the convicted man had not exploited the vulnerability of the children under his care. She apologized to the victims who may have felt she did not advocate for them, acknowledging that the lack of reasoning behind the pardon raised doubts about the zero tolerance policy for pedophilia.

In addition to Ms. Novak’s resignation, another prominent female politician from Fidesz, Judit Varga, who was the justice minister at the time of the pardon, also stepped down. This double resignation poses a significant setback for Prime Minister Orban and his party, especially considering that Ms. Varga was slated to lead the Fidesz list in the upcoming European elections in June.

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