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In search of a new President

April 3rd, 2012

According to the Constitution, Parliament has to elect the successor of President Pál Schmitt within 30 days, but a popular centrist observer thinks we will find out the new candidate within a week.

Some commentators did predict, in the heat of battle, that President Pál Schmitt would soon have to resign as a result of his plagiarism scandal (See Budapost January 21 through April 2), but even they were taken by surprise when he did so on Monday, a mere 30 hours after staunchly defending himself in a radio interview.

Gábor Török believes the government side made a mess of this story, first by rejecting allegations of plagiarism, then by beating about the bush for the last week.  Nevertheless, the popular political scientist thinks that the President has resigned just in time for the governing majority to avoid fatal consequences. The right wing has itself been deeply divided over the issue, and therefore there is now a sense of relief that the situation has been resolved. Its chances of winning the inevitable public relations battle have become incomparably better after Mr Schmitt’s resignation: they can claim that their man had to bear the consequences of a mistake committed 20 years ago, whereas leading left-wing officials shamelessly concluded their terms in office, despite being caught red handed.

From now on, Török continues, Prime Minister Orbán and his party will certainly try to choose a successor as soon as possible, in order to avoid infighting over the candidacy and in order  to deprive the opposition of the chance to promote more popular candidates than their own. The president is elected by the parliamentary majority, and the opposition does not even have enough mandates to get a candidate on the ballot paper. But it could make things morally difficult for the majority by presenting a popular personality to the public.

Török mentions among the potential candidates the Speaker of Parliament, László Kövér, or another László, Bishop Tőkés, the renowned hero of the 1989 Romanian revolution. The Prime Minister was reported as telling his MPs on Monday that the successor must be more right-wing than himself. If that is true, Török remarks, earlier speculation about Foreign Minister János Martonyi or Professor József Pálinkás, the President of the Academy of Sciences, can be discarded. Rather than someone able to win over the centre, Mr Orbán must therefore be looking for a candidate who is both more right-wing than himself, but also out of reach of the radical right-wing Jobbik party.

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