March 30 (UPI) -- Hungary's Parliament on Monday voted to grant Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government the ability to rule by decree for an indefinite amount of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation passed by a vote of 137-53 with nine members of Parliament not casting a ballot. It would prevent any elections from being held in addition to suspending the enforcement of certain laws.
Additionally, individuals who spread false information that might interfere with the protection of the public, or possibly alarm or agitate a large number of people about the coronavirus, could face up to five years in prison.
"Changing our lives is now unavoidable," Orban said about the policy last week. "Everyone has to leave their comfort zone. This law gives the government the power and means to defend Hungary."
The rules would only be able to be lifted through a two-thirds vote in Parliament and a presidential signature.
"When this emergency ends, we will give back all powers, without exception," Orban said during Monday's vote.
Some have criticized the move as a "power grab" by Orban, which Hungarian State Secretary Zoltan Kovacs dismissed as false.
"Such insinuations are not only incorrect but deamatory and impede the government's efforts in slowing down the spread of coronavirus," Kovacs said.
Council of Europe Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic, however, warned that "an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency cannot guarantee that the basic principles of democracy will be observed."
"Civil society, journalists and international and European organizations will have to step up their efforts even more in this new situation to ensure that the potential for grave abuses by government overreach are monitored, documented and responded to," she said.