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Hungary’s Ruling Socialists Lead Elections

April 9, 2006

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Hungary’s ruling Socialists appeared to hold a narrow lead in the first round of parliamentary elections Sunday _ the first legislative ballot since the former communist nation became a member of the European Union.

With 98.3 percent of vote counted, the Socialist Party won 43.3 percent of the vote, giving them 105 seats in the legislature, while the center-right Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union had 42.1 percent for 97 seats, the National Election Office said. Three smaller parties won 11 seats between them.

But with some 170 seats in the 386-seat legislature undecided, a second round will be held April 23 to determine the final outcome in the Eastern European country of 10 million.

The Socialists and Fidesz both emphasized the state’s central role in the economy, and their pledges varied more in style than substance, so the campaign revolved around the personalities of the two leading candidates.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who has promised to boost employment by attracting more foreign investment and introduce the euro as Hungary’s currency, led the Socialists.

Fidesz was led by Viktor Orban, who campaigned on a promise to keep health care and railroads in state hands.

Both are vying to become Hungary’s first post-communist premier to serve a second term. Gyurcsany was chosen by lawmakers in September 2004 following a coalition coup that ousted Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy midway through his four-year term. Orban was prime minister from 1998 to 2002.

The Hungarian Democratic Forum, or MDF, unexpectedly won 5.04 percent of the vote, just over the 5 percent cutoff needed to enter parliament _ giving them two seats. The small party’s leader Ibolya David said their success proved Hungarians did not want a two-party system.

The Joint Socialist-Free Democrat candidates won five seats. The Socialists’ coalition partners, the Alliance of Free Democrats, won four seats.

The election was the first since Hungary joined the EU in 2004.

Gyurcsany, 44, one of Hungary’s richest businessmen before he turned to politics in 2001, has tried to reshape his party _ founded by reform-minded communists in 1989 _ into a modern left-wing force.

Orban, 42, has muted some of his party’s more nationalistic tendencies and toned down the aggressiveness of his message.

Gyurcsany has vowed to prepare Hungary’s economy to adopt the single European currency, the euro, in 2010. Analysts say 2012-2013 seems a more realistic date.

No major irregularities were reported by election officials.

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