Hungarian President Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, announced her resignation on Saturday following outrage over a pardon granted to a man involved in a child sex abuse case.
Shortly afterwards, another Orban supporter, former Justice Minister Judit Varga, announced that she was withdrawing from public life over the affair.
The announcements followed mounting pressure from opposition politicians and protests outside the presidential palace on Friday evening.
“I’m resigning,” said 46-year-old Novak, who acknowledged she had made a mistake.
“I apologize to those I hurt and to any victims who may have had the impression that I did not support them,” the former family policy minister added.
“I am, I have been and I will continue to support the protection of children and families.”
Novak became the first woman to hold the mainly ceremonial role of president in March 2022.
The controversy was sparked by the pardon granted to a former deputy director of a children’s home. He had helped cover up his boss’s sexual abuse of the children in their care.
The decision was made last April during a visit by Pope Francis to Budapest.
Since the independent news site 444 announced the decision last week, the country’s opposition has called for Novak’s resignation.
On Friday evening, demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace and three presidential advisers resigned from their posts.
Orbán must ‘take responsibility’
Novak, who had been in Qatar on Friday to attend Hungary’s match against Kazakhstan at the World Water Polo Championships, quickly returned to Budapest.
As soon as her plane landed, she emerged and announced her resignation.
“The pardon granted and the lack of explanation may have raised questions about the zero tolerance towards pedophilia,” she said.
“But there can be no doubt on this subject,” she added, before apologizing.
Minutes after her announcement, another Orban ally, Judit Varga, also announced her “withdrawal from public life.”
As Minister of Justice, a position she had resigned to preside over the European Parliament elections, she had approved the pardon.
“I am renouncing my mandate as Member of Parliament and Head of List for the European Parliament,” she said on Facebook.
“It happened quickly: first Novak, then Varga,” Hungarian MEP Anna Donath responded to the news.
“But we know that not a single important decision can be made in Hungary without the approval of Viktor Orbán,” Donath, a member of the small liberal party Momentum, added on Facebook.
“He must take responsibility and explain what happened… it’s his system.”
In an attempt to calm national anger, Orbán had announced on Thursday that he wanted to revise the Hungarian constitution to rule out the possibility of pardoning pedophile criminals.
Novak, who has been temporarily replaced by parliament speaker Laszlo Kover, was named the most influential woman in Hungarian public life by Forbes magazine last year.
Her departure makes Hungary’s political landscape even more male-dominated. Since mid-2023, there have been no women in Viktor Orbán’s sixteen-member cabinet.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)