Fidesz forced to make heavy sacrifices – government may play it safe with Katalin Novák’s successor

A more senior, respectable politician with a distinguished professional career, a “safety option”, may be nominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to succeed resigning President Katalin Novák, according to our source within governmental circles. This potential candidate might be someone with no individual ambitions, one who would not want to “play the influencer”. László Trócsányi has been mentioned as a possible nominee. One thing is certain: Fidesz had to pay a serious price; in a single day, the governing party lost both its prominent female politicians long in the making. To make things worse for Fidesz, the resigning President was one of Fidesz’s more Western-oriented figures as per her designated role – the government may find it difficult to quickly replace such a loss.

“From tomorrow onwards, the government will not have a female minister. Thanks to Judit Varga for her service, I wish strength and perseverance for the future, both for herself and her successors! Women are needed in Hungarian public life!” –wrote Katalin Novák in a Facebook post on July 31, 2023, after Varga had stepped down from the position of Minister of Justice. Although the fifth Orbán government is indeed left without female politicians – since 2010, Viktor Orbán has had a total of four female ministers, of whom only Novák and Varga were actual Fidesz politicians, with Zsuzsanna Németh and Andrea Mager being more like ‘extra-party managers’ – a year and a half ago it seemed that Fidesz’s efforts to have younger women represent the governing party alongside the aging members of the Fidesz generation, now in their sixties, had paid off. After all, Katalin Novák, born in 1977, has been serving as head of state since 2022, while Judit Varga, born in 1980, was preparing to lead Fidesz’s EP list, which is why she had resigned from her ministerial position.

As known, both politicians resigned from their positions and announced their retirement from politics on Saturday. Their resignations came in the wake of the presidential pardon granted to the deputy director of a Bicske children’s home, convicted of coercion in relation to a child molestation scandal. The pardoning document by the President bore Judit Varga’s countersignature as Minister of Justice. Consequentially, Fidesz lost its two most important female politicians on the very same day.


Losing Novák seems to be the more painful of the two for Fidesz for two reasons. First, she is Orbán’s second appointed President lasting less than two years in the Sándor Palace. Forced to leave under ignominious circumstances, Novák now follows in the footsteps of Pál Schmitt, Hungary’s head of state between 2010 and 2012, who resigned in the wake of a plagiarism scandal concerning his – now revoked – doctorate. The second reason is that Fidesz had been seeking to create an image of a moderate and consensus-seeking head of state who represents a Western-oriented, pro-Atlantic approach in foreign affairs in comparison to the Orbán government. Although it can be suspected that Novák’s role as the latter was not a product of her own heart’s conviction but of a deliberate government strategy, these attempts had not gone without success. Novák had openly expressed support for Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian war, repeatedly stating her belief that being the aggressor, Russia cannot win this war – all while Prime Minister Orbán has been constantly repeating the exact opposite. Last August, the President visited Kyiv (which Orbán had not done since the beginning of the war), meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Although discreetly, she also urged a swift parliamentary ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession.

Finding a replacement for Novák will also be the more difficult challenge. While Varga was intended to function as the government’s Amazon in its fight against “Brussels bureaucrats”, she would ultimately have been just one more among Fidesz’s dozen MEPs, list leader or not. However, Fidesz has already recovered from the fall of József Szájer ( covered the peculiar circumstances of his resignation here), and with a bit of searching the party is sure to find someone to act as Orbán’s spokesperson in Brussels instead of Varga.

The more important question is, however: who shall be the fourth president of the Orbán regime?

We have previously discussed in detail that Viktor Orbán would have liked to see his oldest comrade-in-arms, current Speaker of the House of the Hungarian parliament László Kövér, as president on several occasions, but Kövér turned down the position on several occasions. Eventually, following Schmitt’s plagiarism scandal and resignation in 2012, it was the Speaker of the House who reconciled the Prime Minister with Novák’s predecessor, János Áder, who had been already spending his third year of his Brussels exile. Although for the second time the opportunity arose, Kövér seriously considered the offer, he was probably right to have assessed that the world of diplomacy is indeed distant to him, since even as the supposedly neutral of Speaker of the House, managing his emotions during opposition speeches seems to be a difficult challenge at times, and he ostensibly shies away from representational functions.

From a political perspective, an even bigger problem is that should Orbán insist on the image of a “Western-aligned president”, Kövér is completely unsuitable for that role. The Speaker of the House has recently openly stated that he does not support Sweden’s NATO accession and is one of the main critics of the European Union within Fidesz.


We have also reported that Zoltán Balog’s nomination was seriously considered for the presidency in 2017 – at that time, it was once again Kövér who persuaded Orbán to not offend Áder and let him have another term, although previously the opposite option was considered certain even on the government side. This was partly due to the fact that the Protestant pastor – now retired from politics and acting as a bishop

used to be the spiritual guide of both the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House for a time, which is still rather peculiar considering the relationship of the three dignitaries. However, it is also known that Balog acted as a mentor to Katalin Novák:

he was the leader of the Ministry of Human Resources during Novák’s term as State Secretary for Family Affairs, and he strongly supported her ministerial appointment, as well as her eventual election as president. Last year, Balog accompanied the president on her trips to Australia and the Pacific Islands last year, was a member of her advisory council, and recently – during Orbán and the Fidesz leadership’s hesitation to comment the resignations – he openly expressed his support for the President following the latter’s resignation.

Furthermore, Balog himself is also connected to the Bicske scandal, as the director of the children’s home convicted of pedophilia received a state decoration on Balog’s proposal shortly before news of his crimes would surface: as reported by RTL, then-minister Zoltán Balog had proposed the institution’s director for the Civil Division of the Hungarian Bronze Cross of Merit. Since the outbreak of the scandal, the bishop has been unreachable; on his Facebook page he wrote that he would withdraw for a few weeks to pray and think, although he shared a post on Saturday ensuring Novák of his support.

Going even further than the above, Direkt36 and Telex’s Sunday evening article, citing government and presidential office sources, claims that lobbying by the leader of the Hungarian Reformed Church also played an important role in granting presidential pardon to the deputy director of the Bicske children’s home, Endre K.  We too have received similar news on the weekend, although tangible evidence is not available to us. However, after such precedents, it is certainly out of the question for Balog to be the next occupant of the Sándor Palace.


So who then? It is currently too early to answer this question, as

Fidesz has only been dealing with the issue for a few days at most: Novák’s mandate would have lasted until 2027, and she could have been re-elected for another term, so there was no need for the party’s leadership to have a plan B.

From our government sources, we have learned so far that there is a good chance that an older, respected politician with a distinguished professional career could be nominated by the Prime Minister to replace Novák. Someone who does not have independent ambitions and does not want to “play the influencer” – according to one of our informants, the Prime Minister did not view the frequency of Novák’s appearances favourably.

Our source also mentioned that the expected nominee “is not a woman”, therefore – let’s say it – a man, which indicates that after the downfall of the Novák-Varga duo, Fidesz is stepping back from its strategy of placing women in important positions. It’s worth noting that there are hardly any serious female politicians left at the forefront of the governing party. At most we could mention Kinga Gál, vice-president and MEP, who although could fit the image of the ‘consensus-seeker’, her public recognition is limited. The same goes for already 75 years old Márta Mátrai. Alexandra Szentkirályi, who has also been mentioned and measured as a possible mayoral candidate, currently takes on more of an announcer-like role alongside Gergely Gulyás at the government’s info briefings. Szentkirályi is only 36 years old, so while theoretically fit for the position (the constitution allows the post to be filled from the age of 35), she is still more of a TikTok influencer than a serious politician.

However, the name of her husband, Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, also surfaced as a potential option after had reported that alongside Novák’s changing perception, a government-affiliated market research company also assessed the recognition and popularity of the Minister of Defense. Szalay-Bobrovniczky completed postgraduate management training in Paris with a French state scholarship and served as an ambassador in London, so Fidesz could potentially market him as a politician of a Western commitment. However, in Hungary he is primarily known as a casino billionaire, having amassed such wealth from seemingly nothing in merely three years that he could now fit among the nation’s wealthiest – and one would look in vain to his asset declaration to find the final destination of the billions produced by the casino business.

Although his nomination was discussed, if the aim is to avoid further scandals, Szalay-Bobrovniczky might not be the most obvious choice. The politician, having played his casino shares over to Árpád Habony, is easy to attack in connection with his business dealings,

and he was also a subject of controversy following his decision to relocate the Military History Museum from the Buda Castle to make room for himself and his ministry in the building. Therefore, while the reserve group commander in the ceremonial Palace Guard would certainly look the part, he hardly meets the criterion of risk minimization. Although it’s worth noting that Szalay-Bobrovniczky is perhaps Antal Rogán’s most favoured candidate, and the business circles of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office are also closely interwoven with his.


Emphasizing that there is still no decision on the matter,

the potential candidacy of László Trócsányi is also being mentioned within the government.

The 67-year-old former Minister of Justice announced in January that he would not run again in the June European Parliament elections and would continue to work as the rector of the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church.

Trócsányi would fit well among the presidents of the post-transition period: like Ferenc Mádl and László Sólyom, he is a renowned legal scholar, a member of the Venice Commission, an independent body of constitutional experts supporting the Council of Europe, and has also worked as a constitutional judge. Consequently, he would handle legal matters carefully, which is not trivial after the pardon scandal that has caused serious damage to Fidesz. Although it can be assumed that he would reject laws adopted unconstitutionally or with improper procedures just like János Áder did, the former member of the Orbán government would hardly jeopardise the legislative plans of the cabinet. He probably wouldn’t pursue his own agenda either, and consequently would seek less publicity than Novák, following in Áder’s footsteps in this regard, too.

And Trócsányi certainly wouldn’t pose any threat or danger to Orbán.

Additionally, he has a well-established network in the West: he served as ambassador in Brussels between 2000 and 2004, then in Paris from 2010, and in the last five years, he worked as a Fidesz representative in the European Parliament. However, his past is not without stains, either: despite being proposed by Viktor Orbán, he was not elected as a member of the European Commission in 2019 as his nomination was considered incompatible and questionable due to his previous activities at his law firm. The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee criticized his role as Minister of Justice in relation to the law firm Nagy and Trócsányi, which was involved in the 2018 contract related to Paks II, and also criticized his relationship with Russia, stating that during his tenure as minister, Russian suspects were extradited to Moscow. Trócsányi, however, referred to the decision as a “patchwork collection of lies, contextually misinterpreted and tendentiously presented facts”, while also considering it personally offensive. Afterwards, he spent five years in the European Parliament without much notice.


Trócsányi is known to have a good relationship with Minister of Construction and Transport János Lázár, as revealed in a video from three months ago, where the minister claims to regard the former constitutional law professor from Szeged as his mentor – whether this is currently an advantage or a disadvantage within the Hungarian political elite is also subject to debate.

However, according to our sources, the situation may call for a “safety option” in the shadow of the Bicske child molestation scandal, meaning that the candidate’s recognition and popularity won’t be the deciding factors – just like it wasn’t during the crisis in the wake of Schmitt’s resignation, when Áder made his comeback.

Rather, what is crucial is to have a reliable, politically obedient, risk-free, or rather, “boring” cadre to take the presidential seat,

much like how Áder spent ten years there without any notable scandals, which Fidesz circles remember nostalgically already, along with his staff. Meaning that while Novák’s resignation was clearly essential due to public sentiment, the selection of her successor might not necessarily be determined by surveys, but rather by Orbán’s political instincts.

There is still time for the final decision as the president’s resignation requires the parliament to formally accept it, and it is not yet known when the National Assembly will convene. It is also possible that the parliament will wait for the beginning of the spring session at the end of February. Within 30 days from then, Hungary’s seventh president since the regime change must be elected.

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