Schmitt, 68, is set to succeed Laszlo Solyom as the country’s fourth president since Hungary’s transition from communism to democracy 20 years ago. Orban’s spokesman Peter Szijjarto announced the nomination.
“It’s a solemn, yet honorable duty to be the first citizen of the republic and Viktor Orban thinks Pal Schmitt can, and will, perform that duty reputably,” Szijjarto told reporters in Budapest today. Solyom’s five-year mandate expires on Aug. 4.
The prime minister’s Fidesz party swept to power in April elections, winning an unprecedented two-thirds majority in the legislature, which gives it enough votes to pass all appointments and rewrite the Constitution. Orban’s backing assures Schmitt, who has been a leading sports administration official since communist times, will be elected on June 29.
Hungary’s prime minister has the bulk of executive power, while the president’s role is largely ceremonial. Responsibilities include signing bills into law, with the option of sending legislation back to lawmakers for reconsideration or to the Constitutional Court for a legal probe.
Schmitt, who won Olympic gold medals in fencing in 1968 and 1972, was a deputy chairman of Fidesz from 2003 to 2007 and a vice president of the European Parliament from July 2009 to May 2010. He has headed the Hungarian Olympic Committee since 1990 and was vice president of the International Olympic Committee from 1995 to 1999. He was a deputy state secretary for sports under communism from 1981 to 1990.
Orban’s ruling party has been exerting its power to take control of institutions and government agencies. Fidesz nominated Laszlo Domokos, one of its parliamentary deputies, to head the independent State Audit Office. Solyom this week sent back to lawmakers a proposal that would have allowed the ruling party to hand-pick Constitutional Court justices.
Fidesz plans to replace Adam Farkas, the president of the financial regulator Pszaf, by the autumn, Magyar Hirlap reported today without citing anyone. Orban is also trying to oust central bank President Andras Simor, who has dismissed calls for his resignation, saying it was his “constitutional duty” to serve out his term until 2013.