Thousands of demonstrators hit the streets of Budapest for a second night over the passing of a series of bills that critics argue will cement Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s grip on power.
Orban’s right-wing party Fidesz pushed through legislation on Wednesday that allows employers to demand up to 400 hours’ overtime annually and the creation of a new government-controlled court system, sparking protests and clashes with police.
Thousands returned to Hungarian capital’s streets on Thursday night to intensify their objections to what has been dubbed the “slave law.”
Angry protesters marched across Budapest’s Széchenyi Chain Bridge with banners reading “Free Country, Free University” and “To prison with this gang of thieves” before the sea of angry people caused traffic chaos on nearby streets.
On the steps of parliament, scores of police officers in riot gear blocked the building’s entrance as demonstrators assembled before them, waving flags and colored smoke flares while chanting “Orban go to hell” and “We have had enough,” Reuters reported.
“One thing is the issue of the courts, which is the next phase of cementing their power, one phase towards building total power,” protester Tamaz Szabo told the news agency.
“I’ve come to show a huge middle finger to the government and express that I am really, really fed up and I think most people are here for this,” said another student protester, Adam, who declined to give Reuters his surname.
Hungarian law previously permitted businesses to demand up to 250 hours overtime annually. The government told CNN this week the changes to working hours are “in the interest of the workers” and would allow people to work and earn more.
Meanwhile, human rights workers have slammed the establishment of a parallel court system that will be tasked with government-related matters such as taxes and elections.
They argue that the courts – which are set to begin operating next year and are expected to oversee the hiring of judges, will bring the country yet another step closer to authoritarianism.
“There is no real argument behind the law, this is simply a political decision that aims to extend the government’s control over the judiciary,” said Dávid Vig, director of Amnesty International Hungary, in a statement.
“It is no surprise though, it fits well into the series of measures taken by the Hungarian government to erode rule of law in Hungary,” he added.
Orban’s government has denied these claims, saying the courts will be independent and “in line with current European approaches and standards.”
Since Orban’s populist Fidesz Party rose to power in 2010, and most recently won a landslide victory in April this year, it has come under increasing fire from the European Union over its crackdowns on democratic institutions.
Earlier this year, the European Parliament took the unprecedented decision to trigger Article 7 – a disciplinary process – against Hungary over its erosion of democratic norms that spanned everything from the media to migrants.
The move came on the heels of Hungary’s “Stop Soros” law – named after the billionaire philanthropist and well-known Orban foe George Soros – that banned nongovernmental organizations from assisting undocumented migrants.
On December 3, Central European University, which was founded by Soros, said it had been “forced out” of Hungary in “an arbitrary eviction.”
Orban’s anti-migrant policies, which have been blasted by the EU, have proved particularly popular in rural Hungary.
The PM has also found allies in Poland, which is facing its own disciplinary process from the EU, and with Italy’s similarly hardline interior minister, Matteo Salvini.