Someone could nitpick and say that János Áder has not been confirmed as president yet. He was only nominated by Viktor Orbán and endorsed by the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary caucuses. Let’s just wait for the final vote. But we know, don’t we, that there won’t be any problem with his election on May 2, the date apparently picked for the glorious event. Áder will be elected after the first round of voting because he will receive two-thirds of the votes. That is certain. It is also certain that the democratic opposition parties will not assist in this “circus,” as they call the presidential election, Orbán style. Moreover, if I heard it right this morning, not even Jobbik will be present. Thus, Áder’s election to the post will be a cozy little affair.
When it comes to an assessment of Áder as a politician and as a man even people on the liberal side, be they politicians or analysts, are split. There are those who say that “Áder is certainly an improvement over Schmitt.” Gábor Fodor (SZDSZ), who started his political career as one of the founders of Fidesz, has a good opinion of him as an intelligent and likable man. Perhaps because of Fodor’s close association with Áder going back almost thirty years he seems to be able to overlook some of the serious objections one can raise against Áder’s appointment.
Although he is a few years older than Viktor Orbán, through László Kövér, a close friend of his, Áder hung out with the bunch of students who resided in the same self-governing dormitory (kollégium) and who decided to establish a rival political formation to KISZ, the official student association. These people, great friends living and studying together as law students, run Hungary today. They occupy all the important positions. Just to illustrate my point, on August 20 when celebrations for the national holiday begin in front of the parliament, three old buddies will be standing: János Áder, the president; Viktor Orbán, the prime minister; and László Kövér, the speaker of the house.
Áder held important positions within the party. He was on the Fidesz negotiating team at the Round Table discussions where the future of democratic Hungary was hammered out between the democratic opposition and the ruling communist party. He was in charge of Fidesz’s successful 1990 election campaign and received a seat in the Fidesz parliamentary delegation in 1990. He spent nineteen years in parliament, rising to the position of speaker of the house between 1998 and 2002 when his party was in power. Once Viktor Orbán’s party lost the elections in 2002 Áder became head of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, a position he held for four years.
But then something happened. Viktor Orbán felt that Áder couldn’t be completely trusted. There were rumors that Áder, along with many others in the party, thought that perhaps Viktor Orbán should not continue in his position as the unquestioned leader of Fidesz. After all, he managed to lose two elections in a row. Whether Áder was really contemplating removing Orbán or not is beside the point. Orbán thought he was. In Magyar Nemzet an article appeared in which Mária Schmidt of Terror House fame and János Áder were accused of conspiring against Viktor Orbán. Analysts claimed that such an article couldn’t have been published in Magyar Nemzet without Orbán’s permission.
From there on Áder was more or less dropped. He remained a member of parliament but he no longer was the leader of the Fidesz delegation. The job was taken over by Orbán’s new favorite, Tibor Navracsics, who earlier was involved with Fidesz politics only as an adviser to the chairman of the party. Then came the European parliamentary elections of 2009 and no one was terribly surprised that among Fidesz’s nominees there was János Áder.
Áder’s knowledge of foreign languages was meager. He was apparently learning English, but we all know that learning a language fairly late in life is an arduous and slow task. At the time Áder’s English was practically non-existent. I heard from people who know him that he has since learned English quite well. Although one could hear at times that Áder wasn’t too happy in Brussels, he took his duties seriously. I checked and found that he was present at something like 95% of all full sessions of the European Parliament. Moreover, he moved his whole family to Brussels, where his children are being schooled.
If you don’t take the job, Caligula, I swear I will give it to János Áder! (Gábor Pápai, Népszava)
So, what kinds of objections can we raise against János Áder? The most common criticism is that he is so closely associated with Fidesz that he will not be accepted by those who are in the other camp. And, the argument continues, according to the constitution the president is supposed to embody the “unity of the nation.” I don’t think that this is a weighty consideration. After all, not since Árpád Göncz has a president been endorsed by both camps. The situation became really bad during the term of László Sólyom and went further downhill during Pál Schmitt’s disastrous year and a half. So, with Áder’s election the situation cannot possibly change for the worse. The prestige of the office is in shambles.
More weighty are those criticisms that are brought up in connection with János Áder’s dubious contributions to Hungarian politics. For instance, his role in the election of László Sólyom when he, as the head of the Fidesz caucus, checked each ballot before the Fidesz members entered the booth, ostensibly to vote in secret for the new president. After all, Fidesz wanted to be sure that all members of the caucus would vote for Sólyom and defeat MSZP’s candidate, Katalin Szili.
An even more serious objection to Áder is his latest contribution to Viktor Orbán’s attack on Hungarian democracy. If it is true that Áder was exiled to Brussels because of his alleged sins against Orbán, he must have been forgiven. Áder was asked to work out the new system for the Hungarian judiciary. It is his handiwork that raised so many objections by the foreign legal scholars of the Venice Commission. But that’s not all. He was also the architect of the new electoral law. International scrutiny has not yet gotten as far as taking a good look at the electoral law, but everything I read indicates that there will be very serious objections to this piece of legislation as well.
Thus, Áder seems to be responsible for a judicial system that allows government interference in an allegedly independent judiciary and the electoral law that can prevent the peaceful transfer of power from one government to the next. Very serious objections, I’m afraid.
And now Áder seems to be entrusted with another task. On the off chance that Viktor Orbán and his government are not reelected, he as president can prevent the proper functioning of the new political formation. Although on paper the president’s competence seems to be fairly restricted, he will be able to dissolve parliament with a little help from the Budgetary Council. It will work in the following way. According to the new constitution, if the Budgetary Council considers the budget passed by parliament inadequate, they can refuse to give it their blessing. If parliament and the Budgetary Council are unable to agree on a budget by March 15, the president can dissolve parliament and declare new elections. The Budgetary Council consists of three men. At the moment there are two Fidesz appointees and the chairman of the Hungarian National Bank, András Simor. However, next year Viktor Orbán will pick the new chairman of the central bank. Thus, the Council will be made up entirely of Fidesz appointees.
Áder will be occupying his post until at least 2017. The prospects are rather grim, I’m afraid.