Hungary's PM needs another yes-man

By bne IntelliNews April 3, 2012

Tim Gosling in Prague -

Hungary's embattled President Pal Schmitt didn't last long in his fight for his job, quitting on April 2 amidst mounting pressure over a plagiarism row. The move will be welcomed by the government.

Speaking in parliament, Schmitt said: "My personal issue divides my beloved nation rather than unites it. It is my duty to end my service and resign my mandate as president." The ruling Fidesz party announced almost immediately that it would initiate a parliamentary vote on the president's resignation.

Doubts over Schmitt's position have been simmering since January, when it emerged that his doctoral thesis was being investigated for plagiarism. He appeared a doomed man on March 29 when his former university stripped him of his qualification.

However, Schmitt came out swinging and steadfastly refused to go on March 30, despite growing protests that included a number of people camping in front of the parliament in Budapest. But once it became clear that he had lost the support of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Fidesz - which backed his election strongly in 2010 - he had little choice.

Lancing a boil

Fidesz did not do so willingly. Unlike his independent-minded predecessor Laszlo Solyom, who sent back many laws to parliament, Schmitt kept to his inaugural pledge to be the "engine" of Orban's reforms and did not challenge a single one of the 365 laws fast-tracked by Fidesz in its first 18 months in office. That's despite the fact that many of them were constitutional changes, and have since been legally challenged by the European Commission. However, with the damage severe, Fidesz clearly spent the weekend telling Schmitt to throw in the towel, and the swift resignation will come as a relief to Orban, say analysts.

Schmitt vacates his post as the least popular president since the collapse of communism, according to a poll in April. With its constitutional majority in parliament, Fidesz should have little trouble levering in another yes-man. Local media reports in February suggested Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi as a likely candidate.

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