We are witnessing a possibly important event in Hungarian politics. In May, János Áder’s tenure as president is coming to an end. We have known since December 20, 2016 that, after all, he will be renominated for the post. This news came as a surprise not only to the public but, apparently, even to János Áder himself.
Why was the announcement so unexpected? After all, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán should have been satisfied with the performance of his hand-picked president. Áder never made waves by sending clearly illegal acts of parliament straight to the Constitutional Court. If something truly outrageous arrived on his desk, he simply sent it back to parliament for reconsideration, an act that resulted in its being sent back to him in an unaltered form, after which he had no choice but to sign it. And yet it seemed that Orbán was dissatisfied with Áder. After Pál Schmidt, who wanted to be a loyal servant of the government and never questioned any of the laws put in front of him, I guess Áder was still far too independent.
In May 2016 a cameraman of HírTV caught a few words exchanged between György Rubovszky (KDNP), chairman of the parliamentary committee on legal matters, and Imre Vas (Fidesz), the committee’s deputy chairman. Rubovszky told his colleague that “there is no way Áder will be reelected because Viktor doesn’t permit it.” The Fidesz majority in parliament will vote for whomever the prime minister wants to be elected.
A few weeks ago the names of László Kövér and Zoltán Balog were floated as possible successors to Áder. Kövér’s name quickly disappeared from the short list. My guess is that Kövér said he didn’t want the job. And Orbán respects Kövér’s political and personal decisions. As far as Balog is concerned, we know that Orbán and Balog discussed the matter. My hunch is that Balog was ready to accept whatever job Orbán entrusted him with. At the last moment, however, the idea was dropped. The reason? Balog’s mega-ministry is under heavy criticism. The revolting teachers want him to resign because of the disastrous PISA results. Hungarian healthcare is in shambles. Removing Balog from his current position might have been interpreted as a retreat by Orbán, something the prime minister is loath to do.
As soon as it became known that Áder would most likely be reelected, Sándor Székely, one of the leaders of Solidarity who earlier had managed to get almost all of the democratic parties on the same platform on October 23, decided to look into the possibility of suggesting a respectable candidate all democrats could support. He, Balázs Gulyás (one of the organizers of the successful demonstration against the internet tax), and Peter Krasztev (a literary historian and former head of the Hungarian Cultural Institute in Bratislava) got together to find a suitable candidate. Of course, these three men had no illusions. Given the dominance of the government party in parliament, Áder will be reelected. Whoever agrees to the nomination is facing certain failure. However, they argued, if they manage to gain the support of all the parties on the left, this act will not only have symbolic value but might also expedite cooperation among the parties when it comes to the 2018 national election. Their choice was László Majtényi, a constitutional legal scholar who is currently the director of the Károly Eötvös Intézet, a legal think tank. The organizers got 39 well-known public figures to support Majtényi’s nomination. The list of supporters can be found here.
Right-wing publications try to paint Majtényi as a representative of those liberals who are no longer relevant. He represents a world that no longer exists. Even Magyar Nemzet came out with an opinion piece that made fun of the whole idea by claiming that the democratic opposition might just as well have nominated Lagzi Lajcsi, a musician who was popular some years back. This is a truly unfair comparison. Majtényi was counselor to the Constitutional Court between 1990 and 1994; subsequently he was named Hungary’s first ombudsman in charge of data protection (1995-2001). In 2008 President László Sólyom and Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány jointly named him to head Országos Rádió és Televízió Testület (ORTT), responsible for the enforcement of Hungary’s media laws. Less than two years later, in October 2009, he resigned “because he was unable to prevent the decision of the organization” which allowed the two parties, Fidesz and MSZP, to divide between themselves two radio frequencies. He showed a great deal of independence and integrity in this case.
Majtényi agreed to be put forth as a candidate for president although his chances are nil. Moreover, in order to become an official candidate he will need 40 votes in parliament. Even if all 29 MSZP members and all 10 liberal independents vote for him, he is still short one vote. To be successful, at least one LMP member would have to side with the others. And that is a question mark. At the moment MSZP, Párbeszéd, Együtt, and the Liberals expressed their support. LMP and DK are still undecided. LMP’s problem is most likely the party’s reluctance to do anything with the other opposition parties. DK’s hesitancy is more complex. DK doesn’t consider the new constitution legitimate and therefore doesn’t consider the person of the president legitimate either. On the other hand, they consider Majtényi an excellent candidate. So, says DK’s spokesman, the leadership, which will meet again at the end of the month, will have to resolve this dilemma.
Jobbik, by the way, announced that it will come up with its own candidate for the presidency. Its MPs will vote for neither Áder nor Majtényi.
There is a possibility that the 40 votes may materialize because, after all, LMP really shouldn’t have any problem with Majtényi’s candidacy. But one never knows because the “evil spirit” of the party, András Schiffer, who allegedly no longer runs the party, just published a short note on his Facebook page in which he accuses Majtényi of inconsistency. The ill will Schiffer harbors against Majtényi goes back to András Schiffer’s negotiations with Fidesz to reach an agreement on the nomination of four new judges of the Constitutional Court. Since Fidesz no longer had a two-thirds majority, Orbán needed LMP’s help. Majtényi’s Károly Eötvös Institute advised against the deal because “it would legitimize an unacceptable political system.” If that was the case last year, asks Schiffer, how is it not the case in 2017? Doesn’t his running against Áder legitimize Orbán’s unacceptable regime? There is, I’m afraid, some truth to this. It is the same problem DK is facing at the moment. And yet if the opposition parties do not support Majtényi, they will appear to accept the status quo and become even more marginalized.