The president of Hungary, who holds conservative views, has stepped down after facing criticism from the public for pardoning a man involved in a child sexual abuse case. This decision caused a major political scandal for the nationalist government, which has been in power for a long time.
Katalin Novák, 46, declared in a televised statement on Saturday that she would resign from her position as president, a role she has held since 2022. Her choice came following over a week of public anger after it was exposed that she granted a presidential clemency in April 2023 to a man found guilty of concealing multiple cases of child sexual abuse at a government-operated youth facility.
Novák admitted on Saturday that his pardon had caused confusion and discontent among many individuals. He acknowledged that he had made an error.
The Fidesz party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has faced accusations of undermining democratic institutions and manipulating the electoral system and media to benefit themselves.
Novák, a key Orbán ally and a former vice president of Fidesz, served as Hungary’s minister for families until her appointment to the presidency. She has been outspoken in advocating for traditional family values and the protection of children.
She made history as the first woman to be elected president in Hungary and was also the youngest person to hold the position.
However, her tenure ended when she granted clemency to a man who had been convicted in 2018 of coercing victims into withdrawing their accusations of sexual abuse by the director of the institution. The director was sentenced to eight years in prison for abusing at least 10 children from 2004 to 2016.
“I granted clemency in April of last year after considering the plea and available information. It was my belief that the individual did not take advantage of the vulnerable children under his care,” stated Novák on Saturday. “However, I now realize that my decision to pardon without proper justification could raise concerns about our zero tolerance policy towards pedophilia. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in this case.”
In addition, Judit Varga, a prominent member of Fidesz who supported the pardon in her role as Hungary’s former justice minister, was also involved. Varga was predicted to be the lead candidate for Fidesz in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
However, in a Facebook post on Saturday, Varga declared that she would accept political accountability for supporting the pardon, and “step down from my public role, relinquishing my position as a member of parliament and leader of the EP list.”