Hungary’s conservative president, Katalin Novák, has announced her resignation following a public outcry over a controversial pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case. The decision has sparked an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party.
In a televised message on Saturday, Novák, who has held the presidency since 2022, acknowledged her mistake and expressed regret for the unrest caused by her decision. The pardon, issued in April 2023, involved a man convicted of concealing a series of child sexual abuses in a state-run children’s home.
Novák’s resignation marks a rare instance of political turmoil for Fidesz, which has enjoyed a constitutional majority since 2010. The party has faced accusations of undermining democratic institutions, manipulating the electoral system, and exerting control over the media. Novák, a former vice president of Fidesz and a close ally of Orbán, previously served as Hungary’s minister for families before assuming the presidency.
The scandal emerged after it was revealed that Novák had pardoned a man who had been sentenced to over three years in prison in 2018 for pressuring victims to retract their claims of sexual abuse by the institution’s director. The director himself had been sentenced to eight years for abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.
Novák defended her decision, stating that she believed the convict had not exploited the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him. However, she acknowledged that the lack of justification for the pardon had raised doubts about the government’s commitment to zero tolerance for pedophilia.
Judit Varga, another prominent figure within Fidesz and Hungary’s former minister of justice, was also implicated in endorsing the pardon. Varga had been expected to lead Fidesz’s list of candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections. However, in a Facebook post on Saturday, she announced her resignation from public life, including stepping down as a member of parliament and as the leader of the EP list, taking political responsibility for endorsing the controversial pardon.