A founding member of the governing Fidesz party is set to become Hungary’s next president after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán nominated MEP János Áder for the post on Monday. The largely ceremonial office has been vacant since 2 April, when former head of state Pál Schmitt was forced to resign amid an academic plagiarism scandal.
Orbán told Fidesz MPs of his decision at a meeting on Monday. Áder subsequently said he would return from Brussels and resign his party membership (a constitutional requirement: the President of the Republic, representing the “unity of the nation”, is notionally above party politics). “That is what my conscience and faithfulness to my country dictate,” Áder said in a statement.
Áder and Orbán were founder members of Fidesz, established in 1988 as a libertarian pro-democracy movement whose name means Alliance of Young Democrats. A more right-wing Fidesz and its Christian Democrat alliance partner now control the necessary two-thirds of seats in the house, so can elect Áder without opposition support. This was the case with Schmitt, also Orbán’s personal choice, although some senior party members had reportedly expressed reservations at the time.
The announcement of Áder’s nomination was greeted with dismay by all opposition parties. They saw in the career politician a replacement to continue Schmitt’s policy of unquestioningly signing into law all legislation promulgated by the government.
Party man to the core: Jobbik
Schmitt (who had also been a member of Fidesz) put his name to over 350 new laws rushed through Parliament by the cabinet and the rigidly disciplined Fidesz-Christian Democrat rank and file since May 2010.
All four opposition parties have announced a boycott of the vote on 2 May, some even before the prime minister instructed his party to back Áder for president. The leader of the Socialist Party, Attila Mesterházy, accused Orbán on Monday of making another “bad personal choice” that failed to take into account the “wishes of the majority” of the public. The extreme-right Jobbik, with only slightly fewer seats than the Socialists, said Áder was a “party man to the core”. Only a direct public election could have restored prestige to the office of president, Jobbik politician Zoltán Balczó said.
For the small green-liberal party LMP, the choice of Áder was about the internal party politics of Fidesz. The leader of the LMP’s parliamentary caucus, Benedek Javor, said Áder’s name was linked to “two of the most shameful laws” of recent years: a sweeping electoral reform act seen as favouring larger parties, particularly the incumbent conservatives, and judicial reform legislation.
Who Hungary needs: Kósa
Fidesz deputy president Lajos Kósa told state television viewers on Tuesday why he supports Áder’s candidacy. Hungary does not need an ineffectual “uncle-type” or “lawyerly” president, Kósa said. The latter was clearly a reference to Schmitt’s predecessor László Sólyom, a former supreme court judge who carefully scrutinised laws passed by Parliament, regularly returning them for reconsideration or passing them for Constitutional Court review.
President in waiting
János Áder, 52, was a founding member of Fidesz in 1988 and as such is a long-time colleague of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He took part in the Opposition Round Table talks that led to a negotiated end to single-party rule by the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party (MSZMP). He became a member of parliament in the first election of 1990, in which he masterminded the Fidesz campaign. Áder served as parliamentary Speaker during the first Orbán government from 1998 to 2002, and held a seat until 2009 when he was sent to the European Parliament as one of 14 Fidesz MEPs (out of Hungary’s 22).
The website votewatch.eu, which collates the voting records of all MEPs, shows that Áder has a good attendance record, showing up for close to 99 per cent of European Parliament plenary sessions in Brussels and Strasbourg. He voted with the centre-right European People’s Party in 95 per cent of ballots and in line with his own Fidesz party 98 per cent of the time.