Hungarian lawmakers Wednesday confirmed the appointment of European Parliament deputy, Janos Ader, a career politician and ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as the country's new president.
For more than 10 years, Ader was Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right- hand man - his lawyer and election strategist, a speaker of parliament and leader of the parliamentary group of the governing Fidesz party. But then, Janos Ader fell out of favor with Orban. In a move regarded as political exile, Ader spent the past three years in Brussels and Strasbourg as a member of the European Parliament.
Now, Viktor Orban has recalled the 52-year-old to Hungary and given him a special, though largely ceremonial, post as the next Hungarian president.
What a remarkable, even baffling career move. Even politicians close to Orban and knowledgeable of Fidesz internal affairs wonder what prompted the prime minister to nominate Ader of all people, a longtime political companion he had fallen out with in the recent past. Hungary's respected online news portal index.hu was stumped at Orban's personnel decision and wrote: "Back from exile to the top."
300 laws in 20 months
It was the Orban administration's most sensitive personnel decision, halfway through the prime minister's term in office. In April 2010, Viktor Orban and his conservative Fidesz party won national elections with a two-thirds majority - enough to turn the country inside out. Presidential elections were scheduled to be held just weeks after Orban's election triumph with the presidency of incumbent Laszlo Solyom about to expire.
While Solyom could and would have stayed on for another a term, the government regarded him as too independent and a risk to Orban and his reform plans. After all, the Hungarian head of state has the power to block laws from taking effect by simply not signing them and returning them to parliament instead.
Pal Schmitt was nominated for the post, a former two-time Olympic fencing champion and loyal ally, who was expected to sign into law whatever bills were submitted. Initially, there was quite some opposition within the party to Schmitt - a sensation, since there is rarely any form of open debate within highly disciplined Fidesz - but Orban persevered.
As expected, Schmitt waved though more than 300 laws during the 20 months he spent in office. By then, the president had turned into a liability because of major problems with Hungarian spelling and other public blunders. Finally, Schmitt was forced to resign on April 2 after being stripped of his 1992 doctorate title for plagiarizing other people's work and claiming it as his own.
Ader's nomination for president put an end to a Hungarian post-communist tradition: all previous presidents had political leanings, but with their professions and lifestyles, they embodied bipartisan characteristics which a large part of Hungarian society could indentify with.
Ader, however, is a career politician and a wily one at that. While he is not likely to be as embarrassing as his predecessor, he is also not particularly charismatic. Ader is a disciplined attorney and loyal Fidesz supporter who rarely smiles, has a prim appearance and is a mediocre public speaker, but he is always well prepared and a gifted, loyal organizer. Hungary's largest daily newspaper Nepszabadsag termed him Orban's "brigadier".
He grew up in the small town of Csorna in western Hungary, studied law and graduated in Budapest in 1983..Ader joined Fidesz shortly after the party was founded in March 1988, serving as a legal expert and then as a member of parliament in 1990. As Viktor Orban's right-hand man, he organized Fidesz election campaigns beginning in 1994 and was victorious four years later. Ader continued his career after the lost election in 2002, but in 2006, when Orban's Fidesz party missed winning a governing majority by a hair's breadth, he gradually faded from the political scene, leaving Hungary for Brussels in 2009.
Reward for loyalty?
In 'exile', he never once complained: Ader was as loyal as ever. He co-wrote legislation that allowed Viktor Orban to reorganize Hungary after his election victory in April 2010, securing his own and the Fidesz party's power. Ader is the author of Hungary's new election legislation that strongly favors large parties, and co-author of legal reforms in his country that assure government access to judges and courts.
Perhaps Orban felt the time had come, following Pal Schmitt's resignation, to reward Ader for his unfailing loyalty with a high-level position without moving him back into the center of power. Perhaps Orban couldn't find any other suitable candidate.
Janos Ader has set ambitious goals. In a short statement following his nomination, he named Ferenc Deak as a role model for his work as Hungarian president. Deak, a liberal 19th century politician and revered statesman, initiated the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 which established the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.
Today, too, compromise is Hungary's most pressing task, in domestic and foreign affairs. The Orban administration's policies have polarized the country like never before, isolating the nation in the EU.
Ader's discreet allusion to Ferenc Deak may mean he plans to use his position not as a compliant figurehead but as an initiator of compromise.
As Gabor Fodor, Fidesz co-founder and longtime fellow party member, put it in a blog: "Ader could bring hope to conservatives who are unhappy with Orban's achievements but don't want to support the opposition."
"He could also bring hope to liberals and leftists tired of politics that know no compromise or insight, but only the system of full-scale national attack," Fodor wrote.
Author: Keno Verseck/ db
Editor: Gregg Benzow