Hungary parliament elects new president following scandal

Parliament approves appointment of Tamas Sulyok, 67, a Constitutional Court chief, to replace Katalin Novak.

The new presidential candidate of Hungary, former chairman of the Constitutional Court Tamas Sulyok (R) is seen with former president Janos Ader (L) in the main hall of the parliament building in Budapest on February 26, 2024. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)
Tamas Sulyok, right, will become president on March 5 [Attila Kisbenedek/AFP]

Hungary’s parliament has elected a political novice as president after the resignation of his predecessor, who caused outrage by pardoning a man convicted in a child abuse case.

The affair has turned into the biggest political crisis that nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has faced since his return to power in 2010.

Orban ally Katalin Novak resigned as president this month after it was revealed she had pardoned a convicted child abuser’s accomplice.

Last week, ruling party Fidesz nominated Constitutional Court head Tamas Sulyok, 67, to replace Novak, Hungary’s first female president.

On Monday, parliament, where Fidesz’s ruling coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party holds a two-thirds majority, approved his appointment, after which he took the oath of office.

He will become president on March 5.

Little known to the broader public, Sulyok became a Constitutional Court judge in 2014 and, two years later, the court’s head.

The opposition has criticised the nomination of politically inexperienced Sulyok. About 3,000 people attended a Sunday protest by four opposition parties, calling for direct presidential elections. The post is largely ceremonial.

‘Duller presidency’

The Novak scandal broke this month when the news site 444 revealed that she had pardoned the former deputy director of a children’s home last year.

The man was sentenced in 2022 to three years and four months in prison for helping to cover up his boss’s sexual abuse of children and adolescents there.

Tens of thousands of people have protested against the presidential pardon in Hungary, whose government has long campaigned on a pledge to protect children.

Orban has likened the resignation of Novak to a “nightmare” but stressed it was the right decision.

When opening the parliament session on Monday, he described Sulyok as someone with “vast experience, respected knowledge and undisputed authority”.

“I believe that Hungary needs such a president now,” he said.

Under Sulyok, the Constitutional Court made several controversial rulings, including on teachers’ rights to strike.

To calm anger over the pardon scandal, Orban has promised to tighten existing laws to bar convicted child abusers from receiving clemency.

He also wants to vet those working with children to make sure they have passed the “appropriate suitability test”, covering “lifestyle, sexual deviance and psychological fitness”.

Source: AFP