Hungary’s president quits in plagiarism scandal
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Hungary’s president has bowed to public pressure and resigned amid a plagiarism scandal, in an embarrassment to the country’s centre-right Fidesz government.
Though his post is largely ceremonial, Pal Schmitt, an ally of prime minister Viktor Orban, has played a central role in signing into a law a series of reforms that have sometimes strained relations with the European Union and other international partners.
Mr Schmitt, a former Olympic fencer, has been in the spotlight since January, when local news websites asserted that almost 200 pages of his 1992 doctoral thesis, “The Analysis of the Programme of Modern Olympic Games”, had been copied from works by Bulgarian and German authors. Mr Schmitt has denied plagiarism.
His resignation comes at an awkward time, with Hungary attempting to start negotiations with the EU and International Monetary Fund over a multibillion-dollar funding agreement. It was also recently criticised by the Council of Europe, the human rights body, over elements of its controversial new constitution, which became law in January.
“In this situation, when my personal issue divides my beloved nation instead of uniting it, I feel it to be my personal duty to finish my service and resign from my presidential mandate,” Mr Schmitt told a plenary session of Hungary’s parliament. “I ask god’s blessing for Hungary and for your work.”
Mr Schmitt is the first Hungarian president not to complete his term since the collapse of communism. His resignation will quell the growing clamour of discontent from all political sides in Hungary, including some of the normally submissive Fidesz MPs.
However, given that political power lies overwhelmingly with parliament, in which MPs from the governing coalition have a two-thirds majority, analysts said the move would probably have little effect on government stability or policies.
“[This has] limited market impact. Across the region there have been a number of similar cases over the years …[it is a] bit of a blow to PM Orban in Hungary I guess, but the president is chosen by parliament, and the ruling Fidesz party still has a large majority in parliament so should be able to sign off on a Fidesz-friendly candidate,” wrote Timothy Ash, an analyst with RBS in London.
A fact-finding committee set up to investigate the allegations of plagiarism concluded last week that the president had copied large parts of his thesis but had “met the formal requirements” in force at the time. Semmelweis University, the successor to the institution that originally awarded Mr Schmitt his degree, revoked the award on Thursday, however.
The moves resulted in an unprecedented common front calling for his resignation from across the parliamentary opposition, including far-right Jobbik MPs.
Despite continued tacit support from Mr Orban, who said last Friday that the president’s position was “inviolable”, Mr Schmitt had been expected to announce his resignation in a recorded interview on Friday evening.
Instead, he insisted there was “no connection” between his post and the decision by Semmelweis University to revoke his doctorate. His defiance sparked several public protests, albeit in limited numbers, over the weekend.
Laszlo Kover, the speaker of parliament, will take over Mr Schmitt’s duties until parliament elects a successor.
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