Parliament elects Hungary’s first ever woman president

Newly elected Hungarian President Katalin Novak is pictured after she took her oath as representatives of the Hungarian parliament approved her appointment as the new president at the parliament building in Budapest on March 10, 2022. – The Hungarian parliament elected Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as the EU member’s first ever woman president. (Photo by Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

The Hungarian parliament Thursday elected Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as the EU member’s first ever woman president.

Novak, who most recently served as a minister for family policy, portrayed her election as a victory for women.

She was elected to the mostly ceremonial role by 137 votes to 51 in the parliament dominated by Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party ahead of opposition challenger Peter Rona, an economist.

“We women rear children, care for the ill, cook, do the work of two people if needs be, earn money, teach, win Nobel prizes, clean windows,” Novak said in a speech before the vote.

“We know the power of words but can keep quiet and listen if we have to, and defend our families with a courage beyond that of men’s if danger threatens,” said the 44-year-old, Hungary’s youngest ever head of state.

“It is thanks to being a woman and not despite it that I want to be a good president of Hungary,” she said.

Earlier she posted a photo of her, her husband and her three children on social media, saying it “means a lot to me that my family is here with me”.

– LGBTQ controversy –
Novak has been the face of government policies including generous tax breaks and handouts designed to encourage young families to have more children.

Thursday’s vote comes weeks ahead of a crunch parliamentary election on April 3, where Orban faces a stiff battle to win a fourth straight term in power since 2010.

Peter Marki-Zay, who leads a six-party opposition hoping to unseat Orban next month, accused Novak of being “unfit” for the presidential position job due to her partisan background.

Critics of the socially conservative Novak have also blasted her championing of anti-LGBTQ policies ahead of a referendum about gender-change also to be held on April 3.

A law banning the “display or promotion” of homosexuality or gender change to minors took effect last year, sparking a widespread outcry and threats of sanctions from Brussels.

The government, including Novak, has argued the law is needed to protect children, but critics say the law discriminates against the LGBTQ community and conflates paedophilia with homosexuality.

Novak — a former vice-president of the ruling Fidesz — will succeed party co-founder Janos Ader, who has held the job since 2012. She will take office after Ader’s term expires May 10.

– ‘No need to compete’ –
From the southern city of Szeged, the multi-lingual economics and law graduate previously lived in Germany for seven years where her husband worked.

After serving as a foreign ministry official for years she became an MP in 2018 and was soon promoted by Orban to minister in charge of families, one of only few women in senior positions in his government.

As the face of pro-family policies, Novak sparked controversy by saying in a promotional video that women need not “constantly compete” with men.

“Women should not need to work in the same position and earn at least as much as men do, and they should not need to choose between having children and their career,” she said.

Last autumn, Novak who was decorated with the Legion of Honor in 2019 for her contribution to improving relations between Paris and Budapest, coordinated the Hungarian visits of presidential candidates Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen.

Novak has also facilitated meetings between Orban and other European right-wingers like Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Spain’s Santiago Abascal.

Polls indicate that Novak is more “divisive” than outgoing president Ader.

At a Fidesz party congress last November Novak wore “OV 2022” earrings referring to Orban’s election campaign.


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