Conservative ruling party’s Novak to become Hungary’s first woman president

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BUDAPEST, March 10 (Reuters) – Hungary’s parliament elected ruling Fidesz party lawmaker Katalin Novak as the country’s first woman president on Thursday, buttressing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist agenda which has triggered conflict with the European Union.

The 44-year-old Novak has served as deputy chair of Orban’s Fidesz and was family affairs minister in charge of his economic support agenda for the middle class, including subsidies for housing, state-backed home loans and tax cuts.

Analysts say Orban, who faces a close election in less than four weeks, had appealed to female voters in picking the mother of three to the largely ceremonial role of president for a five-year term.

Novak has also backed Orban’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Novak will succeed Janos Ader, another Fidesz party stalwart, after winning 137 votes, based on a tally on parliament’s website. Opposition candidate Peter Rona received 51 votes.

In a speech before the vote, Novak, a multilingual economist, said she would defend the constitution, drafted and approved by Fidesz, which has cemented key planks of Orban’s conservative agenda.

In remarks published by state news agency MTI, Novak said one of her first trips would be to the Polish capital Warsaw, home to one of Orban’s key European allies, the nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS).

In power since 2010, Orban has eliminated nearly all domestic checks on his power and has filled key posts with loyalists, which critics say could make it harder for the opposition to push through its agenda in case of an election victory.

In an interview with news website in December, Novak rejected allegations that she would be an instrument to extend Orban’s power.

“Those saying that I would be just a puppet in this position degrade not me personally, but women in general. They cannot assume that a woman can be a sovereign public officer capable of making autonomous decisions,” Novak was quoted as saying.

Orban has adopted an increasingly conservative political agenda in the past years to shore up his domestic support, including a crackdown on independent media and measures to curb the rights of LGBTQ+ people, which have led to clashes with the EU.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Photo – Katalin Novak, . EPA-EFE/Szilard Koszticsak

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