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János Áder, former Member of the European Parliament, was elected President of Hungary today. The man behind the moustache has been a stable player in Hungarian politics ever since Fidesz was first formed as a radically liberal youth organization in 1988. Although Áder, contrary to the legend, was not among the 37 founders of Fidesz, he joined the party during its first year, a month after it was established. Áder was a member of the Bibó College, where Prime Minister Orbán, Speaker of the National Assembly (Parliament) László Kövér, and many other prominent Fidesz leaders got their start. Since then Áder has been a moderate but charismatic voice who frequently formed internal opposition against Orbán who seems to have always respected his opinions even when he disregarded them.
The socialization that occurred during college years, when the Fidesz boys got up at the crack of dawn to do tedious manual work such as chicken-packing in order to earn a small income and make ends meet, created life-long personal bonds between Áder and Orbán. Áder has always been more contemplative and Orbán more action oriented.
Like many of the Fidesz boys, Áder is a ‘first generation intellectual’ whose love for fishing is as famous as Orbán’s devotion to soccer. Nicknamed the Charles Bronson of Csorna, a small Catholic town of his birth in North-Western Hungary, he has been a strong voice on constitutional and rule of law issues since he was selected to represent the ‘alternative organization’ at the roundtable talks about Hungary’s constitutional transition to democracy in 1989.
Although Áder failed to win a parliamentary seat in his district during the first two elections, his prominent place on the party list secured him a guaranteed spot in the National Assembly, where he was MP until 2009, acting as Speaker of the Parliament during the first Orbán government (1998-2002, and later as vice-Speaker.
In 2006, when Fidesz failed to win back the majority from the Socialist-Liberal coalition, Áder took a back seat in the party hierarchy. In 2006, he did not seek reelection as party faction leader and Péter Szijjártó took the stage. Szijjártó was a Fidesz ‘young gun’, with more loyalty to the leader than to principle.
In 2007, rumor had it that influential and wealthy conservatives were contemplating the establishment of a new party on the right and Áder was mentioned as a potential leader of the new party. But the Fidesz boys found it difficult to turn against each other. Áder soon announced that he would run for the 2009 European Parliamentary elections which many interpreted as his run-away strategy from a Fidesz that was increasingly becoming Orbán’s one-man-show.
During his political exile in Brussels, Orbán tasked him with working on the judicial and electoral reform after Fidesz won the elections in 2012. This suited Áder’s affinity towards constitutional, parliamentary, and judicial matters fed partially by his family background (his wife being a judge and his father in law a justice at the International Court of Justice in the Hague).
A President Áder certainly means a welcome change in Sándor Palota. Áder has the necessary legal-constitutional background and relative independence from Orbán that former President Schmitt lacked (Schmitt never once used his constitutional veto power–the only President with that distinction). Although a party politician most of his life, Áder is unlikely to be a puppet president. His charisma and character will lend the Presidency much needed weight and seriousness that the institution has been sorely lacking in the past two years. Áder allegedly accepted the nomination on the condition that he would veto bills that would weaken Hungary’s new constitutional system. A pledge that should be taken seriously.
—Vera Molnár is a political analyst residing in Budapest, Hungary. She holds a degree in political science and international affairs.