Hungary’s President Katalin Novak Resigns After Decision to Pardon Sex Offender

Hungary's President Katalin Novak

Hungary’s President Katalin Novak announced her resignation on Saturday, February 10, 2024, after facing public outrage and political pressure over her decision to pardon a man involved in a child sexual abuse case.

Novak, who became the first female president of Hungary in 2020, admitted that she made a mistake by granting clemency to Zoltan Kovacs, a former director of a children’s home in Budapest, who was convicted as an accomplice for helping cover up the abuse of several minors by a pedophile priest.

“I made a mistake … Today is the last day that I address you as a president,” Novak said in a televised speech. She apologized to the victims and their families, as well as to the Hungarian people, for her “unforgivable” error.

Novak’s pardon sparked widespread protests and condemnation from civil society groups, opposition parties, and even some members of her own ruling Fidesz party. 

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Several prominent figures resigned from Novak’s advisory board, while some opposition parties initiated impeachment proceedings against her. 

Thousands of people gathered outside the presidential palace on Friday, demanding Novak’s resignation and justice for the victims.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who had appointed Novak as his successor, also distanced himself from her decision and proposed a constitutional amendment to ban anyone who commits a crime against a minor from receiving a presidential pardon.

Novak’s resignation leaves Hungary in a political crisis, as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in April. 

Meanwhile, former Justice Minister Judit Varga, who had countersigned Novak’s pardon, also announced her resignation from her seat in the parliament and from leading Fidesz’s list of candidates in the upcoming European Parliament election. 

She said she took political responsibility for her role in the scandal.