I have never been interested in politics – introducing Tamás Sulyok, Fidesz-KDNP's candidate for Hungary's head of state

February 22. 2024. – 04:08 PM


I have never been interested in politics – introducing Tamás Sulyok, Fidesz-KDNP's candidate for Hungary's head of state
Photo: Zoltán Balogh / MTI


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Hungary's governing parties are nominating Tamás Sulyok, president of the Constitutional Court, as their candidate for head of state, Máté Kocsis, leader of the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary group announced at the off-site meeting of the governing parties' parliamentary groups in Balatonalmádi on Thursday afternoon.

"He is the best-suited person for the task. We could have talked about many candidates, but we wanted the most suitable one" – this is how the Fidesz faction leader explained the decision. The president of the Constitutional Court was proposed for the post by the chairman of the Fidesz-KDNP alliance, Viktor Orbán.

According to Kocsis, in the current situation, Tamás Sulyok is perhaps the most capable of expressing the unity of the nation, which the Fundamental Law expects of the President of the Republic. Sulyok has a serious legal career behind him, and the Fidesz group leader added that they are nominating a man of great personal and professional standing, a man who can be taken seriously by everyone.

Tamás Sulyok, 67, graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Szeged in 1980. He started his professional career as a court clerk at the Csongrád County Court. After passing the bar exam in 1982, he first worked as a legal adviser and then as a lawyer following the change of regime. Between 1998 and 2002, he was the legal representative of the Szeged municipality under the mandate of the Fidesz-member mayor, László Bartha.

According to hvg.hu, his former colleagues in Szeged described Tamás Sulyok as a reserved man who was interested in his profession, and even in his assignments for the local government, he was allegedly motivated more by his professional interests than by financial gain or playing power games. László Trócsányi, former Minister of Justice, whose name was also mentioned as a possible candidate for the presidency was also a classmate of his.

Sulyok was the honorary Austrian consul between 2000 and 2014. According to an article in hvg.hu, he told Délmagyarország that he does not know how he earned the position, "but he is of course happy to have been invited to perform honorary consular duties by a country he is quite fond of". As a consul, his task mainly consisted of providing assistance to Austrians visiting Hungary. He said that "unfortunately, he was often called upon in connection with tragic events, such as deaths, traffic accidents, hospital accidents and hospitalisation".

Since September 2005, he has taught constitutional law as a guest lecturer at the Faculty of Law at the University of Szeged. In 2013, he obtained a PhD, his research topic being the constitutional status of lawyers. In September 2014 he was elected member of the Constitutional Court by the Parliament. Six months later he became deputy president of the body, and on 22 November 2016 he was elected President of the Constitutional Court by Parliament.

"I don't know what to do with political criticism (...) because I've never been interested in politics in my life"

– he told Index in 2021. In the interview, he said that as a judge of the Constitutional Court, he often receives criticism following a ruling. “If a person is criticised, there can be two consequences: they can get angry because of the criticism, which is unnecessary because it doesn't lead anywhere; or they can try to improve their work because professional criticism is helpful.”

The body received a lot of criticism at the time of the decision about the case of the doctor who attacked (and permanently scarred) his former girlfriend with lye, which he believes affected several constitutional judges emotionally. "Our worldview is one of the things that make us human. I don't consider it at all strange that constitutional judges also live in a certain social and cultural environment and that they are also emotionally influenced," he said in the interview, adding that constitutional law should not be overstepped.

Tamás Sulyok will be the seventh president of Hungary since the regime change. There has already been one previous head of state who had been a constitutional judge before: László Sólyom, who was president of the Constitutional Court between 1990 and 1998.

The opposition would like to see a direct election of the president

Katalin Novák announced on 10 February that she would resign as president, after it was revealed that last April she had pardoned Endre K., who had helped cover for the pedophile director of the Bicske children's home.

The resignation of the President is expected to be accepted by Parliament as early as next Monday, the first day of its spring session. From that point on, a new President must be elected within 30 days. Prime Minister Orbán asked the ruling parties' parliamentary groups to keep the transition period to a minimum, "as befits a large and strong governing party".

With Fidesz having a two-thirds majority, there is no question that the governing parties' candidate will win, but it still matters from a political point of view whether the opposition is able to present an alternative with a candidate of their own after the current scandal.

Based on the statements made so far, it seems very unlikely that there will be an opposition candidate, and the opposition parties will not be taking the opportunity to have a joint candidate of theirs make a 15-minute speech in the National Assembly in the middle of the biggest upheaval the NER system has seen so far.

In recent weeks, several parties have floated names of potential candidates:

  • Mi Hazánk mentioned economist and university professor Magdolna Csath,
  • Párbeszéd-Zöldek recommended Jenő Kaltenbach, former parliamentary commissioner for national and ethnic minority rights,
  • while LMP would have liked to nominate Péter Hack who is a lawyer, and department head at ELTE University, and a former Member of Parliament.

For someone to be nominated at least one fifth (40 MPs) of the Members of Parliament need to recommend them. This means that even DK, which has the largest opposition group (15 MPs), would not be able to nominate a candidate on its own. At least four opposition groups would have to come together to get the 40 recommendations. The opposition parties have called for a change of law, to allow citizens to directly elect the new president, but Fidesz rejects this proposal.

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