Hungary‘s first female president, Katalin Novak, resigned on Saturday after mounting pressure for pardoning a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children’s home.
Novak, 46, a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the youngest person to hold the office of president, resigned just a week after her presidential pardon was first reported.
The revelation caused a public uproar and demands from the opposition for her and former Justice Minister Judit Varga to quit. Varga, a rising star in Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, resigned as a lawmaker on Saturday.
‘I made a mistake… Today is the last day that I address you as a president,’ Novak, whose role as president is largely ceremonial, said as she announced her resignation on state television.
She cut short an official visit to Qatar and returned to Budapest unexpectedly on Saturday.
‘I made a decision to grant a pardon last April believing that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of children whom he had overseen. I made a mistake as the pardon and the lack of reasoning was suitable to trigger doubts over the zero tolerance that applies to paedophilia,’ she said.
Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigned on Saturday after coming under mounting pressure for pardoning a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse
Protesters holding placards take part in a rally in Budapest in front of the Presidental offices
Novak, a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, resigned just a week after her presidential pardon was first reported
She said in a statement on earlier this week: ‘Under Katalin Novák’s presidency, there is no pardon for paedophiles, and there never will be. There is no excuse for paedophilia.’
Orban has for years campaigned to protect children from what he has described as LGBTQ activists roaming the nation’s schools. This has been one of several issues over which Orban has clashed with the European Commission.
Novak, the youngest person to ever take on the role as president, pardoned a group of 25 people last year as part of a visit made by Pope Francis, whose name were last week revealed.
Among the criminals pardoned was Endre K., a psychologist and deputy director of a children’s home near Budapest, who was jailed for three years after forcing abused children to retract their allegations against the director of the home.
One protestor was seen with a sign that, in Hungarian, read: ‘Bastard’
Protesters in front of the Presidental offices on February 10, 2024
Fidesz leads opinion polls ahead of the June elections but about a third of voters are undecided
The director himself was jailed for eight years over the abuse at the government-run facility.
The pardon means Endre K., who was not fully named in Hungarian media due to its privacy laws, is now free, and could theoretically be allowed to return to his profession.
András Gál, a Hungarian lawyer who represented a number of the abused children, previously told local media that Endre ‘could tomorrow be the psychologist of any of our children, has assisted in covering up a seriously paedophilic crime.
‘Since his name will not be made public, there is no way for the public to avoid him.’
This week, Hungarian opposition parties had demanded Novak’s resignation over the case and on Friday, a thousand demonstrators rallied at Novak’s office calling for her to quit.
Protestors again rallied against the politician in the hours before she resigned. One was seen carrying a sign that, in Hungarian, read: ‘B******.’
Protesters demanded the resignation of Hungarian President Katalin Novak and former Justice Minister Judit Varga’s withdrawal from public life
People walk on the Chain Bridge as they take part in a protest to demand the resignation of Hungarian President Katalin Nova
A man holds a teddy bear during a protest to demand the resignation of Hungarian President Katalin Novak
In a bid to contain the political damage, Orban personally submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament late on Thursday depriving the president of the right to pardon crimes committed against children.
While Orban did not directly address the scandal, he said there should be ‘no mercy for paedophiles’, adding that he would cut anyone ‘in half or into pieces’ if they attacked one of his six grandchildren.
On Saturday, Judit Varga – who was expected to lead Fidesz’s list for the elections, and who also signed off on the pardon – said on Facebook she would step down as a Fidesz MP, taking responsibility for her decision.
‘I resign from public life, I resign my mandate as a lawmaker and also the top position on the European party list,’ Varga said.
The head of Fidesz’s parliamentary group, Mate Kocsis, said Novak and Varga made ‘responsible’ decisions which the party would respect.
Fidesz leads opinion polls ahead of the June elections but about a third of voters are undecided.