Orban to Seek Hungary Premiership in 2018, Rules Out Presidency

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban ruled out running for the country’s presidency, signaling he’d seek a fourth term as premier in 2018.

“The chances of me becoming president are sub-zero,” Orban told reporters Tuesday in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, according to his office’s website. Orban said that the job of prime minister is a “better fit” for him and that he would seek re-election as head of the ruling Fidesz party this year.

Hungary will pick a president in 2017 after Janos Ader’s term expires. While eastern European countries including Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic elect their heads of state directly, the post is filled in Hungary through a vote in parliament, where Fidesz has an almost two-thirds majority.

The presidency has become a major political battleground in several countries in the region. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and Slovak Premier Robert Fico both unsuccessfully ran for president last year and lost. On Sunday, Andrzej Duda unseated Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski in a ballot seen as a preview of a general election in the fall.

In Hungary, Orban’s clout extends to the presidency, with both Ader and his predecessor coming from the ranks of Fidesz. Orban, who returned to power in 2010 after having served as premier in 1998-2002, is a founder of his party and has been its chairman without interruption since 2003.

‘Illiberal State’

Orban has faced criticism for his consolidation of power at home since winning the 2010 elections with an unprecedented two-thirds parliamentary majority, which he used to pass a new constitution over opposition protests, to weaken the courts and extend his influence over independent institutions such as the central bank.

Last year, after winning a second consecutive term, Orban said he wanted to build an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as examples, while remaining a member of the European Union.

Since its re-election in 2014, Fidesz has plunged in polls as the government battled corruption allegations, faced street protests against a spate of new taxes and encountered criticism over an energy deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It still leads in all opinion polls, trailed by the radical nationalist Jobbik party.