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Hungarian President Schmitt quits office after plagiarism ruling

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Hungarian President Pal Schmitt, an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has signed off on all legislation since taking office in 2010, quit after losing his doctoral title because he plagiarized his thesis.

Schmitt bowed to pressure to quit after Semmelweis University in Budapest stripped him of his doctoral title in sports last week. Schmitt initially resisted resigning, saying on public television on March 30 that there was “no link” between his doctorate and the presidency.

Schmitt, an Olympic champion fencer and long-time International Olympic Committee member, is the first president to resign since Hungary’s transition to democracy in 1990. Schmitt, who was one of Orban’s deputies in the ruling Fidesz party, vowed to be the “motor” of government policy as president, raising concern over the lack of checks and balances on a premier who won an unprecedented two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010 elections.

European Union objections to some of the government’s laws signed by Schmitt, including new regulations on the central bank and the judiciary, have blocked Hungary’s talks on an International Monetary Fund loan.

Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover will take over Schmitt’s duties until the legislature’s majority elects a successor.

’Wouldn’t Block’

While the office of the president is largely ceremonial and the bulk of executive power lies with the prime minister, Schmitt’s predecessors regularly returned legislation to Parliament or sought Constitutional Court review. Schmitt on June 24, 2010, said that as president he “wouldn’t block the government’s agenda.”

Schmitt was nominated to the presidency by Orban, who until today rejected calls to demand the president’s resignation, including from politicians from within his ruling party, Fidesz. All four parliamentary opposition parties demanded that Schmitt quit and hundreds rallied in Budapest over the weekend to demand his resignation.

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg quit last March over allegations he plagiarized passages of his doctoral thesis.

No Credit

A fact-finding commission set up by Semmelweis University confirmed last week that 180 pages of Schmitt’s 215-page dissertation, entitled “The Analysis of the Program of Modern Olympic Games” in 1992 were “partially identical” to another work, while another 17 pages were “completely identical” to a separate study, with neither receiving credit.

While Schmitt’s thesis included a bibliography, it didn’t cite sources and didn’t include footnotes or endnotes, according to the report, published on the university’s website. The commission didn’t use the word “plagiarism” in the three-page summary of its report.

Schmitt’s thesis “didn’t meet the ethical and professional criteria of scientific work,” Tivadar Tulassay, the rector of Semmelweis University, said on March 29 after the university stripped the president of his doctoral title. Tulassay quit yesterday, citing a “loss of trust” from the government ministry overseeing the university.

The probe into Schmitt’s dissertation was launched after the HVG.hu news website reported on Jan. 11 that Schmitt may have copied word for word from the work of Bulgarian sports researcher Nikolay Gueorguiev.

Schmitt, who won Olympic gold medals in fencing in 1968 and 1972, was a deputy chairman of Fidesz from 2003 to 2007 and a vice president of the European Parliament from July 2009 to May 2010. He has headed the Hungarian Olympic Committee since 1990 and was vice president of the IOC from 1995 to 1999. He was a deputy state secretary for sports under communism in the 1980s.

His approval rating sank to 30 percent this month from 49 percent when he took office in June 2010, pollster Ipsos said on its website, without giving a margin of error.

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