Hungary PM looks to save face with party loyalist installed as president

By bne IntelliNews April 18, 2012

Phil Cain in Graz, Austria -

A ruling-party loyalist, university chum and policy advisor, MEP Janos Ader's nomination and all-but confirmed appointment as president looks set to restore some of the reputation of rightist Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban after the disgrace of his previous appointee. And given the Fidesz party's two-thirds majority in parliament, the opposition's decision to mount a boycott of the vote is entirely symbolic.

After weeks of escalating public outrage, Pal Schmitt, who Orban parachuted into the presidency shortly after a landslide victory in 2010, handed in his resignation on April 2. To the end, Schmitt refused to accept blame for copying all but a handful of pages of his 1992 doctoral thesis.

Outcry from the left was a given. But the plagiarism scandal sparked open dissent from the right too, including members of Orban's normally supine Fidesz party, influential conservative academic bodies and the far-right Jobbik. This dented the myth of Orban as the rightist bloc's infallible unifying leader.

Ader's nomination on April 16 will partly make up for this loss of face, says one Fidesz watcher, unable for to speak publicly for professional reasons. "Ader is known as a very good political strategist and unquestioning Fidesz-loyalist," he says, pointig out he had a hand in drafting controversial 2011 reforms to the judiciary and electoral law while a Member of the European Parliament.

The 52-year-old was among the founding members of Fidesz in the late 1980s, which led to a 19-year stint in the Hungarian parliament, heading its election campaigns in 1990 and 1994 and holding the post of deputy party leader on four occasions. He withdrew to Brussels in 2009 amid rumours of a spat with Orban.

In his written acceptance of the nomination, which is scheduled to go to a parliamentary vote on May 2, Ader said he wanted to represent all Hungarian people, which he said numbered 15m. This is provocative talk when only 10m people live within Hungary's borders. The remaining 5m ethnic Hungarians he referred to can be assumed to be those living in neighbouring Romania and Slovakia.

Ader's moustache alone did not win him the nickname "Charles Bronson"; Orban has said Ader would provide "security and predictability" during difficult times. Among street-fighting credentials was his wangling victory for conservative Laszlo Solyom in a presidential run-off in 2005, when Fidesz was in opposition.

Assuming he wins the vote in parliament, it would secure Ader the position until 2017, three years after the next parliamentary election. The president's role is largely ceremonial, but comes with the power to send laws back to parliament or refer them to the constitutional court. "Janos Ader's presidency will definitely mean a change of style compared to that of Mr Schmitt," says Julia Lakatos of the Centre for Fair Political Analysis, a think-tank.

She says Ader, as a trained lawyer who has spent time in the European Parliament, will not simply rubber stamp every law that passes his way as did Schmitt, a former Olympic fencer and sports administrator.

Others are more sceptical, saying Ader will be no barrier to the Fidesz programme. "Ader is Orban's man, and his major role will be to defend the 'results' of the Fidesz-government," says Andras Biro Nagy, co-director of political consultancy Policy Solutions.

The opposition also doubts there is any significant change afoot in the way the country is administered. They also worry about the term of the presidency extending to 2017, giving Ader - and by extension the Fidesz party - the power to disrupt the agenda of any opposition party that might win in 2014. The process of nominating the president "is solely about an internal game played by Fidesz. It's about tactics," says the LMP's parliamentary leader Benedek Javor.

The far-right Jobbik, which often sides with Fidesz, called for a president to be elected by popular vote. Socialists even called for the re-nomination of Laszlo Solyom who they opposed in 2005.

As a diligent MEP, Ader has made the occasional heated speech in defence of what he saw as unwarranted foreign criticism of Hungary. But the man from the north-western town of Csorna's strength lies less as barnstorming rhetoric, and more in being a shrewd political operator.

Ader may find it hard to criticise Schmitt's dishonesty after prank callers found his level of English may fall short of his own assessment in 2009. But after three years in Brussels it is reported to have significantly improved.

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