A Tale of Two Speeches: János Áder re-elected President of Hungary after sharply critical speech by challenger Majtényi

March 13, 2017

Photo: index.hu

A Monday vote in the National Assembly determined that incumbent President of Hungary János Áder will serve another five-year term. Challenger László Majtényi (pictured above with supporters), with near unanimous support of the political opposition, failed in his bid to replace Áder, who, with the support of the Fidesz-KDNP coalition’s majority in parliament, won easily in a second round of voting.

The first round requires a two-thirds majority for a nominee to be elected president. Fidesz-KDNP’s 131 votes were two short of that supermajority, so Áder would have had to win the votes of at least two opposition MPs to win the election in the first round. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), Politics Can Be Different (LMP), Democratic Coalition (DK) and Dialogue for Hungary (PM) all pledged their support for the challenger Majtényi, a former ombudsman and current director of the political think-tank Eötvös Károly Institute, bringing his parliamentary support to 43 members. Radical right-wing party Jobbik, advocating a direct presidential election, did not participate in the parliamentary vote.

The first round resulted in 131 votes for Áder, only two votes shy of a first-round victory. Only once since Hungary’s transition to parliamentary democracy has a president been elected in the first round of voting, when Árpád Göncz did so with overwhelming support in 1990. This is also the first presidential vote since Hungary’s parliament was reduced from 386 to 199 members in 2014.

In the second round of voting, a simple majority was enough to confirm Áder as president, which the Fidesz-KDNP delegations achieved easily with 131 votes to Majtényi’s 39 (opposition party DK abstained from voting in the second round, cutting Majtényi’s first-round vote total of 43.)

Prior to the casting of the anonymous ballots, both candidates were granted 15-minute speeches before the National Assembly. The two men gave distinctly different addresses. Majtényi focused on his conceptions of the role of the president within government as well as the importance of open, well-functioning institutions in defending democracy and constitutionalism, while President Áder spent nearly half of his speech describing a minor resolution adopted in 2013 in the Serbian parliament. Áder also praised Hungarian inventions and innovations, and warned of the dangers of climate change, but did not make any references to what he hoped to achieve if elected to serve a second presidential term.

Below are the details of each of the men’s speeches.

MTI Photo: Szilárd Koszticsák

Less state and more solidarity

László Majtényi (pictured) opened his speech by greeting members of parliament, diplomats, and members of the press — “including those members of the press who have been banned from this place.” He also thanked opposition MPs for supporting his candidacy and for endorsing the principles of his platform.

“As you can see, I did not extend thanks to George Soros. Perhaps next time,” Majtényi joked to the grumbling and laughing of MPs in the chamber, referring to repeated claims by Fidesz politicians that he is “Soros’ candidate.”

Majtényi then spoke of the importance of constitutionalism, rule of law and independent institutions in governance, and insisted that “the state has succumbed to corruption.”

“People are capricious,” he said. “When ruled by people, life is more unpredictable compared to when institutions govern. We must ensure through the institutions of democratic transparency, guarantees of human rights, and free and fair elections that voters have a real opportunity to oust those in government from time to time.”

Majtényi called the poverty in Hungary “unacceptable” and said the government must ensure that all members of society live with human dignity.

“Many say that the notion of rule of law is far from the minds of the average person. I see this differently,” he said. “If we consider this third world poverty, or even the stolen private pensions, the tobacco kiosks, Kishantos and every other unlawfully stolen land, the stolen freedom of the press and academia, the freedom of culture, and other confiscated physical or intellectual rights, we must realize that we can only trust in the protection of independent institutions over the personal selfishness of those in power.”

Calling on those in attendance to reflect on the mistakes of the Third Republic of Hungary, Majtényi said Hungary must “return the constitutional values of our 1989/1990 constitutionalist movement: in short, the movement for a parliamentary democracy.”

He blasted the selfishness of the powerful over the powerless, the rich over the poor, the healthy over the sick, men over women, Hungary’s national majority over the country’s minorities, and the current generation over the future generations.

“We want a Hungary of freedom and solidarity. I believe in less state and more solidarity. Our rights do not come from the state. They are our rights because we are humans. We want a country where the state treats everyone the same: from those in the center [of the political spectrum] to those on the extreme. The state must afford everyone equal treatment and with respect.

“This means that in the case of the refugee crisis, both morally and constitutionally, the only politics we can pursue is the politics of treating those who have been chased out of their own homelands as though they deserve to be treated with the same respect we afford ourselves. The only good refugee policy is one that meets the standards of humanity, morality and legality.”

Peace, not perpetual psychosis, as a vehicle for advancement

Referring to Machiavelli’s advice to use conflict to consolidate power, Majtényi said it appears as though some Hungarian politicians are heeding the Florentine’s advice.

“Yesterday the migrant, today the bad oligarch, tomorrow Soros, and after that you might find yourself to be the enemy,” Majtényi warned.

“Countries only advance during times of peace. Internal conflicts cause perpetual psychosis, and this is the greatest obstacle to advancement. In Hungary, on the 150th anniversary of the Compromise of 1867 – which brought unprecedented advancement and cultural vivacity – we must reflect on this. We must end the feud that has lasted more than 100 years between those who yearn for the historical Hungary and those who want a modern Hungary. This basis of this feud, which had serious implications 100 years ago, is no longer relevant. This feud has cooled off. Hope for a new compromise is helped by the fact that the System for National Cooperation (NER) has cheated both sides of this feud,” he said.

But peace, he said, has cultural preconditions. Poverty, corruption, scare-tactics, suppression and environmental destruction make it impossible to bring peace.

“Peace does not come from silence, it comes from constant debate and dialogue. There will be no peace as long as the billboards and propaganda media promulgate one message. The constitution makes it clear that the President of the Republic represents the unity of the nation. In my opinion, this is not a clear enough definition. It is not enough to represent national unity, the President of the Republic must serve toward national unity. The President’s statements, actions and gestures can help promote national unity, but they can also damage national unity. I believe it is not good to think in terms of two Hungarys, only one Hungary should be in front of us.”

The characteristics of a good president

Majtényi praised two former presidents of Hungary, Árpád Göncz and László Sólyom, for providing examples that he would follow.

“Both were examples of having personal autonomy,” he said.

Majtényi said he admires Göncz for being a curious man who desired to know more about those around him, and that he admires Sólyom for his strict view of constitutionalism. He then recited quotes from the former presidents which summarize what kind of president he wished to be.

In the first quote, Göncz said that if he had the choice to serve anyone, he  would serve the defenseless who have no servant.

Majtényi then recited the quote from Sólyom in which the former president said that the opposition, the government and the nation have the basic responsibility to adhere to basic norms. If these norms become uncertain, or if some choose to transgress these norms, then it is the duty of the President of the Republic to address this.

Majtényi said that if he were elected president, he would not be grateful to those parties which elected him for more than half an hour, “because the President of the Republic must defend the constitution and ‘thanks’ most certainly does not fall under the auspices of constitutionalism.”

He said he would not be a window-dressing president, nor would he be a “silent or somber sphinx.”

“In situations where constitutionalism and rule of law are at stake, the responsibility of the President of the Republic is especially serious. This responsibility entails that the president must use the tools made available to the post through the Fundamental Law for the purposes of protecting the Fundamental Law.”

Majtényi continued by saying Hungary broke from constitutionalism in the spring of 2013, and the president should use unorthodox tools to protect constitutionalism. He said he would use the right to speak as much as he wants and the right to submit bills for debate to the National Assembly in order to protect the constitution.

“With well thought-out and correct arguments, even the state’s iron gates will open up. A speech made about truth is never powerless,” Majtényi said.

“While the National Assembly is not required to adopt proposals, they are required to debate them. Considering the upcoming celebrations later this month, the first significant proposal I would submit would address press freedom because one after another the remnants of a free press are disappearing.”

Other issues Majtényi said he would tackle with the president’s right to submit bills included a new law on the Constitutional Court, a new law on social services, a new law on higher education and public education, and a law to fight corruption.

A little Sorosozás

Criticizing Fidesz’s campaign against him, which included accusations of being a foreign agent in the employ of George Soros, Majtényi said “less would have been more.”

“In light of what has transpired in recent weeks, I might even ask that parties whose leaders once enjoyed the support of George Soros please cast your vote for me today,” he said. Laughs and applause erupted from the opposition aisles at the joke obviously aimed at Prime Minister Orbán, a former Soros beneficiary.

“In summation,” Majtényi continued, “returning to our tradition of constitutionalism, we must restore the Republic — the Republic where independent institutions establish the constitutional limits which curtail the use of public power and protect our fundamental rights. We need a constitution that is endorsed by way of referendum, one that expresses the positions established through the common values of all groups in society, and one that establishes peace,” he finished.

MTI Photo: Szilárd Koszticsák

President János Áder opened his 15-minute speech by thanking the parliament for the opportunity to be nominated to the post for the second time, and thanked Majtényi for “taking on the challenge” of running against him.

Áder did not address domestic political issues during the speech, instead drawing attention to the promises he had made upon taking office in 2012 that he had kept during his first five-year term as president. He cited, as an example of the achievements of his first term, the Serbian government’s acceptance of his apology for abuses committed by Hungarian military against innocent Vojvodinan Serbs during the Second World War. As a result of his speech in the Serbian parliament in 2013, Áder said, the Serbian government repealed a long-standing resolution establishing the “collective guilt” of the Hungarian nation for those crimes.

President János Áder addresses National Assembly from Budapest Beacon on Vimeo.

President Áder also drew attention to another promise he had made at the time of his 2012 election in which he recommended that Hungarians should “make achievements a central point of our common life, for the honor of people who can do and want to do something. Not only that of our scientists, inventors, exceptional artists or successful sportspeople, but that of the everyday life of our honorable countrymen in many different areas.”

Áder gave examples of such everyday achievements, such as the reduction of a major unemployment problem in a small village in Tolna county, and the success of a small business in Békéscsaba that grew to employ over 1,000 workers. Áder also mentioned “the innumerable [Hungarian] inventions and innovations without which we cannot imagine our lives today,” specifically mentioning the Rubik’s cube. Also mentioned was a hospital in Debrecen which was able to save the life of an unborn child whose mother could not be saved.

“No one, anywhere, was ever able to achieve this, but Hungarian doctors and nurses could. Thanks to them for that,” Áder said to applause from the Fidesz-KDNP delegations.

Áder detailed his contributions to the fight against climate change, listing numerous climate conferences and events around the world he had attended during his presidency.

“It was sad to face in the countries of the world the local and global consequences of political recklessness, governmental irresponsibility and shortsighted merchant’s spirit,” said Áder, who has been outspoken on issues of environmental protection and water quality. “Humanity has consumed more resources in the last 50 years than in all of history. The Carpathian basin, from the perspective of climate change, is unique in Europe in its vulnerabilities.”

Áder thanked the assembly for accepting his recommendations with regard to climate change, and praised the parliament for being the first in the European Union to ratify the Paris Climate accords.

Áder closed his speech by quoting 19th-century Hungarian poet and writer János Arany: “If we don’t have a homeland, then we won’t exist. We won’t have oxen or sheep, we won’t have homes or land. We will not be ourselves, because a homeland is built from these things. Now the question is, do we want the homeland to live, or not?”