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Hungary elects Sulyok as president after sex-abuse scandal ousts predecessor

Zoltan Simon, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian lawmakers elected the chief of the nation’s constitutional court to be the next president after a child-abuse scandal toppled the head of state this month and threatened to sap support for longtime Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Tamas Sulyok, a 67-year-old jurist who has led a highly politicized top court under Orban, will succeed Katalin Novak, Hungary’s first female president, who resigned on Feb. 10 in the fallout over a pardon she gave to a man ensnared in a child sex-abuse case.

Sulyok garnered 134 votes in the 199-seat parliament, matching the number of Orban’s lawmakers and likely reflecting the partisan nature of vote, which was was held by secret ballot. Most of the opposition boycotted the election.

Orban rushed the vote through at the legislature’s opening session this year, hoping to move past the biggest political crisis since his return to power over a decade ago. Novak, a steadfast Orban ally and his former family affairs minister, resigned less than two years into her term.

“Hungary is a strong and stable country and needs to manage a change in the presidency in a way that doesn’t cause even temporary turbulence in the nation’s life,” Orban told lawmakers ahead of the vote. “We can do this by losing no time in electing the new president.”

 

The outrage over the pardon threatened to damage Orban, who has consolidated power in Hungary since 2010 by stacking the court system with loyalists and wresting control over the nation’s media. The scandal also risked upending Orban’s political agenda ahead of municipal and European Parliament elections to be held simultaneously in June.

While some anti-government protests continued this weekend, they were far smaller than the Feb. 16 demonstration that drew tens of thousands to the streets in Budapest, suggesting Orban may have weathered the affair.

Hungary’s president is elected by parliament to a five-year term and plays a largely ceremonial role in the nation of less than 10 million.


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