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Will Áder represent the unity of the nation?

April 23rd, 2012

Most, but not all left-wing commentators believe that the future President of the Republic will play the tune of the government and will therefore not be the kind of balancing factor the head of the state is expected to be. An MEP colleague of Mr Áder says divisions are too deep for anyone to possibly satisfy the expectations of all political sides.

In Népszabadság, Péter N. Nagy draws an ironic picture of the kind of balancing influence he expects the future president to exert; he invites the reader to imagine a see-saw on which Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and János Áder sit at one end, with their feet firmly on the ground, keeping the rest of the country, at the other end, up in the air indefinitely. He thinks Áder will be unable to represent the unity of the nation as prescribed by the constitution, first and foremost because there is no such unity. The political parties represented in parliament all tend to question each other’s legitimacy ­– “the sides do not share a common civilizational footing.” After former President Pál Schmitt’s resignation speech in the House, speaker László Kövér told Socialist MPs that it was a shame they were allowed to have seats in the National Assembly. The Socialists, Nagy admits, have no warmer feelings towards Fidesz either, not to speak of the far right Jobbik party, which, in turn, would like to see Socialist leaders in jail.

(Mr Kövér later asked his deputy to tell the House he was sorry for what he had said in indignation after the Socialist MPs laughed at and booed the head of state, who had been forced to quit because of his plagiarised doctoral thesis).

In his front page column in Élet és Irodalom, editor Zoltán Kovács deplores the new institutional set-up, whereby all three major public offices are filled by people who used to share the same room in a Budapest students’ hostel in the 1980s. (PM Orbán, House Speaker Kövér and the future President were in fact school-mates at the Budapest Law Faculty and lived in the same students’ home where they founded Fidesz in March 1988.) Kovács adds that on top of those three posts, many others have also been filled by former school-mates, or people who used to play football together, and their family members. He does not exclude the possibility, nevertheless, that János Áder will make a good president, but only because all the laws “methodically dismantling the system of checks and balances,” have already been signed by his predecessor. Kovács believes the Prime Minister wanted to exclude all surprises and therefore opted “for probably the most grey and insignificant member of the FIDSZ EP delegation” as his candidate for the presidency.

In 168 óra, Tamás Mészáros expects Mr Áder to represent the country as a whole at least at international meetings and describes him as a sober politician who will express himself in a moderate fashion. Nevertheless, the left-wing commentator is convinced that Mr Áder will personify “the party-state”, and that is precisely why he was chosen as future President. He recalls that Mr Áder played a key role in wording what he sarcastically calls “the two most crucial triumphs of the regime born from the voting booth revolution,” the reform of the judiciary and the new electoral law. The former has already been severely criticised by the Venice Commission (see Budapest February through April), while the latter is set to be Mészáros writes. “Orbán hasn’t resisted the temptation to create his own triumvirate with House Speaker Kövér and President Áder,” he remarks, and expects Áder to play an important political role only in the event of a left-wing victory at the next elections in 2014, when the president will have another three years in office where he can “express the unity of the nation in opposition to the new government.”

In his weekly unsigned lead column, the editor of Magyar Narancs criticises the left wing opposition for planning to boycott the election of the new president on May 2nd in Parliament. He argues that collective absence from parliamentary deliberations and ballots is only justified when the procedure itself is deemed revolting. This, he believes, was the case last year when the opposition boycotted the adoption of the new constitution (See BudaPost pilot issue, May 3rd, 2011). This time, however there is nothing wrong with the procedure itself. Under the Hungarian legal system, the President is elected by Parliament, which in practice means the parliamentary majority. Instead, he suggests, the left wing opposition should name a common candidate. Their MPs are not sufficient in number to put their own nominee on the voting list, but if they had one, they could now blame Fidesz for having imposed a constitutional requirement that it takes 75 MPs to propose a candidate. By withdrawing from the whole process, they lose even that feeble option. “By boycotting the election of the new President without giving a proper explanation and without naming a rival candidate, the opposition will only prove its weakness,” Magyar Narancs asserts.

Gábor Fodor, a one-time comrade and now a (defeated) political opponent, condemns the power structures set up by the new government, but hopes János Áder will make a good president.

Gábor Fodor, a founding FIDESZ member and a leading figure of the “Young Democrats” for the first six years of the party’s life, parted company with Viktor Orbán and joined the liberal Free Democrats in 1994 to become their Minister of Culture and Education in the first liberal-socialist coalition. He was briefly chairman of the Free Democrats, but resigned when his party refused to disband parliament and call new elections in 2009. He believed that was his party’s last chance to avoid annihilation and prevent Fidesz gaining a two thirds majority. The Free Democrats were, in fact voted out of parliament in 2010. Fodor now teaches philosophy at the Law Faculty of ELTE University in Budapest.

Fodor suggests in his blog that Áder’s character may offer a chance to the country and the conservative side alike. He might automatically become a “counterweight” to PM Orbán during the years to come, he speculates. Fodor expects Fidesz to lose more and more of its popularity and eventually right-wing intellectuals could start looking for a new leader. In the event that Áder manages to be successful as President, he might become their candidate. In other words, Fodor thinks PM Orbán has made a mistake when choosing a conscientious and autonomous personality as his candidate, as this might seal his fate one day, while potentially offering the right-wing a chance to avoid the kind of crushing defeat the left suffered in 2010.

In Mos Maiorum, political scientist György Schöpflin, Mr Áder’s colleague as a Member of the European Parliament thinks the new President will have a hard time expressing “the unity of the nation”, for the opposing sides interpret that notion in contradictory ways. Fidesz includes Hungarians living abroad in it, for example, while the left-wing opposition does not. On top of it all, the frontlines have grown too rigid and the brinks too deep, he contends. The left wing has not recovered from its defeat two years ago and seeks support and legitimacy abroad. The opposing sides have been exporting their complaints onto the international scene for a long time now, and as a result, Hungary’s reputation abroad could not be worse, which is an important factor in the unprecedented pressure Hungary is being put under by the European Commission. Schöpflin believes that the tone Finance Commissioner Olli Rehn and “to some extent” two of his colleagues, Viviane Reding and Neelie Kroes use towards Hungary “goes well beyond what a commissioner could normally afford.”  Schöpflin adds he has “heard several times in Brussels,” that “they are going after Viktor Orbán.” All this, along with the technocrats put in charge in Italy and Greece, raises serious questions about the nature of democracy: “who is actually entitled to elect the prime ministers of any country?” Schöpflin says he would not be the least surprised if at the next European elections Eurosceptic parties were to win a blocking minority in the European Parliament. “Why? Because the European Commission, which is a brand and a symbol, is assuming powers it has not been invested with.”

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