BUDAPEST - Hungarian lawmakers comfortably re-elected ruling Fidesz party veteran Janos Ader as President for another five years on Monday, a sign of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's firm grip on power just over a year before a parliamentary election.
The 57-year-old Ader, a lawyer and long-time member of Orban's Fidesz party, has been a strong ally of Orban since being elected for the largely ceremonial role in 2012.
Lawmakers voted 131 in favor of extending Ader's term in a second round run-off after he failed to garner the required two-thirds majority in the first round. Leftist opposition candidate Laszlo Majtenyi, an Orban critic, received 39 votes.
"In little over a year you will all face a test. The noise of political debates will amplify over the coming months," Ader told parliament before the vote, telling lawmakers to put Hungary's interests first instead of political bickering.
Ader, a reserved career politician with a trademark moustache and a penchant for angling, had provided Orban with a solid backing for his political program apart from occasional road bumps at the most controversial reforms.
He had vetoed bills on mandatory voter registration and a proposal to hide nearly a billion euros of central bank funds from public scrutiny, dealing a blow to Orban ally Gyorgy Matolcsy, the Governor of the National Bank.
"The president's powers are rather limited and Ader is not expected to challenge the overall policy course of Fidesz," said Andrius Tursa at think tank Teneo Intelligence. "As such, re-election of the incumbent will signal continued Fidesz dominance."
Orban's Fidesz enjoys a comfortable lead in opinion polls, with the Socialist party and nationalist Jobbik vying for the post of Orban's main challenger at a parliamentary election due in April 2018.
But many people are undecided, and, in a sign of lurking discontent with Orban' go-it-alone style, an upstart political movement has torpedoed his effort for Budapest to host the 2024 Olympic Games.
A core element of Orban's agenda to maintain support has been a tough stance on migration, and he is expected to stick to his policies.
Last week Hungary passed a law to detain migrants in camps on its border, a step which the United Nations said violates European Union law.
"In order to distract public attention from pressing domestic problems, such as widespread corruption and the lack of structural reforms, Fidesz will continue to focus its rhetoric on external threats," Tursa said.