BUDAPEST Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban tapped a close ally on Monday to become the next president, in a move that will cement the power of his conservative party and help push through his political agenda.
The nomination of 52-year-old Janos Ader and his endorsement by Orban's Fidesz party pave the way for his election next month by parliament, where the party commands a two-thirds majority.
The former president, Pal Schmitt, also a Fidesz loyalist, resigned this month in a plagiarism scandal.
Ader, a long-time Fidesz member, returns to Hungary at a sensitive time for the central European country after nearly three years as a member of European Parliament.
The region's most indebted nation seeks an international loan to avert a market crisis while the government is locked in a dispute with Brussels over some of Orban's contested reforms.
By choosing an ally, Orban ensures that laws drafted by his government would not be blocked. While the president's role is largely ceremonial, he can send laws back to parliament for reconsideration, or to the country's top constitutional court to check whether they comply with the constitution.
"Orban's selection on the whole fits well with the earlier steps when people loyal to Fidesz and the government were put into key positions at the head of independent institutions," said Peter Kreko, analyst at think tank Political Capital.
Orban has placed close allies in key posts in the judiciary, the media and the state audit office, which critics say ensured his party's dominance for several years.
A president loyal to Fidesz could also make life difficult for the next government, if Fidesz loses the 2014 elections.
"The term of the new president will span until 2017, so a new government (after 2014) will have to work with the newly elected president for three years," said Zoltan Kiszelly, another political analyst.
"This means a potentially different set of political values and when the president is from a different camp, experience shows the president resorts to his veto right more often."
Orban proposed Ader on Monday to his party's parliamentary group, which endorsed the nomination unanimously.
Parliament is expected to elect the new president on May 2.
Ader joined Orban's Fidesz in 1988, seeing the party grow from opposition youth movement to the most dominant political force in Hungary since the first free elections in 1990.
He also drafted a controversial new election bill last year that critics say favors big parties like Fidesz.
Ader inherits an office tarnished by the recent resignation of Schmitt, an Olympic fencing gold medalist who was engulfed in a plagiarism row surrounding his doctorate at a Budapest university. Schmitt was the least popular president in recent memory.
Ader, a former parliament speaker and father of four, has a trademark dark moustache and laconic composure that earned him the moniker "the Hungarian Charles Bronson" after the American action film star.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Sandor Peto; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)