Hungary elects Katalin Novak, first-ever female president

Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, portrays her election as a victory for women.

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

Novak, who most recently served as a minister for family policy, portrayed her election on Thursday 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, are in two places at the same time if needs be, earn money, teach, win Nobel prizes, clean windows,” Novak said in a speech before the vote.

Novak, centre, takes an oath during her inauguration ceremony at the plenary session of the Hungarian parliament in Budapest [Szilard Koszticsak/EPA]

“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 because I am a woman, and not despite of it, that I want to be a good president of Hungary,” she said.

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

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

Upcoming vote

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.

Novak will succeed Janos Ader, a co-founder of Orban’s governing right-wing Fidesz party who has held the job since 2012. She will take office after Ader’s term expires May 10.

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