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A liberal take on the Slovak presidential election

April 15th, 2019

Following the election of liberal activist Zuzana Čaputová as President of Slovakia, a liberal pundit believes Hungary would be far better off with presidents elected by plebiscite, rather than by Parliament.

In 168 óra, Mária Vásárhelyi evokes the bitter struggle the liberal opposition waged at the dawn of the regime change over 30 years ago against the potential election of reform communist Imre Pozsgay as President of the Republic. They narrowly won the first referendum in November 1989 while a second vote proposed by the Socialist party in 1990 turned out to be a complete failure with a turnout below 15%. The first president of the Republic, Árpád Göncz, a liberal, was elected by Parliament under a pact between conservatives and liberals. Vásárhelyi thinks he was the only faultless head of state over the past 30 years. She believes his successors have been less and less able to fulfil their constitutional role. She suggests that it would be time for Hungary to opt for the direct election of the president, although the electorate will not necessarily make a better choice than Parliament. She mentions Miloš Zeman of the Czech Republic as a negative example, calling him a corrupt, populist, anti-Brussels and hateful politician and likens him to Hungary’s prime minister. By contrast, she welcomes Čaputová as a courageous and honest democrat and believes the election of the president by plebiscite would give Hungary a chance to have a president who is not an ‘orderly’ of the Prime Minister. (The role of the president in all V4 countries is largely ceremonial, whether they are elected by Parliament or by plebiscite.)

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