Hungarian President Pál Schmitt resigned today in a speech to parliament before the beginning of the chamber’s normal session on Monday.
Appointed in 2010 for a five year term, the 69 year-old former Olympic champion and diplomat had become embroiled in a controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the doctoral degree he was awarded in 1992, which last Thursday was withdrawn by Semmelweis University following evidence that most of the 215-page dissertation had been improperly copied without attribution from other scholars’ works.
Despite widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum, Schmitt on Friday gave a television interview in which he said his conscience was clear and that he would remain in office. Schmitt reaffirmed his stance over the weekend in radio interviews.
The president’s speech
Media sources earlier today speculated that Schmitt had in all likelihood asked to address parliament so that he could announce his formal resignation.
The president began his speech by saying that as someone who was previously a sportsman and diplomat, he was unused to the public attacks that are commonplace in politics.
Schmitt reiterated the same points he made in his Friday interview, namely that the problems with his doctoral dissertation should have been raised at the time. Schmitt continued that he will try and have the Semmelweis University’s decision overturned and reaffirmed that he intends to write a new PhD, now adding that the topic would be on sports and environmental sustainability.
At the end, he said that the person of the president is meant to symbolize the unity of the country, but that owing to increasing attacks on his character, he feels that it is now his duty to leave his post, and that he would resign as president.
Questions had been raised over what the appropriate protocol is for removing a president if the does not resign the post himself. Schmitt’s decision to step down of his own volition means those questions can be set aside for the time being.
President of the Assembly László Köver will take over as acting president once Schmitt’s resignation is finalized, after which a new president will be nominated and voted on. (For details on the process click here.)
Fidesz proposes five-party talks for tonight
Following Schmitt’s resignation, Fidesz caucus leader János Lázár said the ruling parties had proposed an evening meeting including all five parliamentary parties tonight to discuss the procedure for nominating a new president, and that members of parliament’s house committee had agreed that Schmitt’s decision to step down should be officially accepted today.
Lázár said that the talks would include discussion of a proposal by Jobbik that the presidency be subject to a direct popular election, and the Socialists’ notion of nominating former President László Sólyom, whom Schmitt succeeded in 2010.