Hungary’s president resigns over a pardon in a child sexual abuse case

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s conservative president resigned Saturday amid public outrage over a pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sex abuse case, a decision that unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the country. long-serving nationalist government.

Katalin Novák, 46, announced in a televised announcement that she would step down as president, a position she has held since 2022. Her decision came after more than a week of public outrage after it became known that she granted a presidential pardon in April 2023 to a man convicted of covering up a string of child sexual abuse in a state-run children’s home.

“I granted a pardon that caused astonishment and unrest among many people,” Novák said on Saturday. “I have made a mistake.”

Novák’s resignation came as a rare episode of political turmoil for Hungary’s nationalist ruling party Fidesz, which has ruled with a constitutional majority since 2010. Prime Minister Viktor OrbánFidesz is accused of dismantling democratic institutions and manipulating the electoral system and the media to his advantage.

Novák, a key ally of Orbán and former vice president of Fidesz, was minister for families until her appointment as president. She has been outspoken about that advocate traditional family values and the protection of children.

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

But her term ended after she pardoned a man sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2018. He was found guilty of pressuring victims to withdraw their claims of sexual abuse by the institution’s director, who was sentenced to eight years for abusing at least ten children between 2004 and 2016.

“I opted for leniency in April last year in the belief that the convicted person did not abuse the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him. I made a mistake,” Novák said on Saturday. “I apologize to those I have hurt and to any victims who felt I did not stand up for them.

A general view of Sandor Palace, office of the Hungarian president in Budapest, Saturday, February 10, 2024. Hungary’s conservative President Katalin Novák has resigned amid public outrage over the pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice to child sexual abuse A decision that unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

A general view of Sandor Palace, office of the Hungarian president in Budapest, Saturday, February 10, 2024. Hungary's conservative President Katalin Novák has resigned amid public outrage over the pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice to child sexual abuse A decision that unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government.  (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

A general view of Sandor Palace, office of the Hungarian president in Budapest, Saturday, February 10, 2024. Hungary’s conservative President Katalin Novák has resigned amid public outrage over the pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice to child sexual abuse A decision that unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

“As head of state, I address you today for the last time. I resign as President of the Republic,” she said.

Also involved was Judit Varga, another important Fidesz figure who was justice minister at the time and supported the pardon. Varga was expected to lead Fidesz’s list of candidates for the European Parliament Elections will be held this summer.

But on Saturday, Varga announced in a Facebook post that she would take political responsibility and “retire from public life, resign my seat as an MP and also as leader of the EP list.”

At the presidential headquarters in Budapest on Saturday evening, about 200 people gathered in what was originally planned as a protest calling on Novák to resign.

After her announcement, attendees said they were happy, but it was not enough to fundamentally change Orbán’s system of governance.

“I’m glad she resigned, but I don’t think things will be resolved this way. She is not the main criminal, you have to look all the way to the top,” said Anna Bujna.

Erzsébet Szapunczay, another participant, said she was “very happy” with Novák’s resignation, but that “she should have resigned from the first moment, like many people in this government, because she is not alone.

“Her resignation was justified because in this way she saves herself from even more people who hate her and are indignant because she has represented this country so far,” she said.

Orbán’s Fidesz enjoys the highest support among Hungary’s political parties, and a fragmented opposition has helped him win four consecutive election victories.

His government, considered the friendliest to the Kremlin in the European Union, has been criticized within the bloc for blocking key decisions such as support for Ukraine And Admitting Sweden to the NATO military alliance.

On Saturday, the head of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, Máté Kocsis, said in a statement that Novák and Varga had made a “responsible decision” and that the party was grateful for their work.

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