BUDAPEST Hungary's ruling party elected a strong ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban as president on Wednesday, strengthening Orban's powers and ensuring a solid backing for his political program.
The ruling conservative Fidesz-KDNP bloc, which commands a two-thirds majority in parliament, elected Janos Ader, 52, a long-time party member as the next president with 262 votes in the 386-seat parliament.
The opposition Socialists boycotted the vote as they say having a Fidesz loyalist as president will cement the party's dominance further, after Orban placed close allies in other important public posts in the judiciary and the media.
The green-liberal LMP also stayed away, while the far-right Jobbik party voted against Ader.
Ader, a lawyer, takes the post at a critical time for the central European country, which is seeking a new loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund in order to avert a funding crisis and cut its high borrowing costs.
"You should not expect Ader to become a power check and resist the prime minister, that's not what you can read from his carrier," said Attila Juhasz, a political analyst at think tank Political Capital.
"It's also important that the president elected now will be in office until 2017, and the office will be held by someone from the innermost circles of Fidesz even if the party loses the 2014 (parliamentary) elections."
TRANSITION TO HAVE NO IMPACT
The transition is not expected to have any impact on the government's political agenda as the president's post is to a great extent ceremonial.
After almost three years as a member of European Parliament, Ader inherits an office tarnished by the resignation of Pal Schmitt, an Olympic fencing gold medalist who stepped down last month after a plagiarism row, in which a Budapest university stripped him of his sports doctorate.
Ader defended Hungary's constitution which Fidesz rewrote last year, and which critics said helped cement the party's power beyond the end of its current term in 2014.
"It is my belief that our new constitution provides from all aspects an adequate direction and framework to find the right solutions to the fundamental issues and challenges of the 21st century," Ader told parliament.
The president may dissolve parliament under certain conditions and has the right to send back laws to parliament or to the country's top constitutional court if he believes the legislation may be unconstitutional.
Ader is unlikely to block legislation drafted by Fidesz.
By choosing an ally, Orban has also pleased his own Fidesz party where Ader is a popular and respected politician.
(Reporting by Sandor Peto)