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Hungarians Vote in Second Ballot

April 21, 2002

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Hungarians began voting Sunday in a second round of balloting to decide their next government, with the opposition Socialist Party trying to build on its narrow lead over the ruling Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party.

In the first round of voting April 7, the Socialists gained 93 of the 386 seats in parliament against 87 for Fidesz. The Alliance of Free Democrats won four seats and withdrew most of its candidates from Sunday’s runoffs to support the Socialists. The second round was called to decide seats in which one party did not get 50 percent of the vote.

Both main candidates have frantically crisscrossed the country over the past few days in an attempt to tip the scales in the tight race.

With few major differences between the parties in terms of policy _ both promise tax cuts and strong economic growth _ the campaign has been transformed into a contest of contrasting styles.

The low-key Peter Medgyessy, a banker who is the Socialist’s candidate for prime minister, has wooed voters with his promise of a peaceful continuation of economic reforms and social cushions for the poor.

The Fidesz candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has fought a boisterous campaign, rebounding from his disappointment in the first round, which polls had predicted he would easily win.

Orban, a leading figure in the opposition to communism in the late 1980s, claimed that a Socialist victory would bring the rule of ``big capital.″ The Socialists _ successors to the Communist party which ruled Soviet dominated Hungary for 40 years _ are considered more supportive of free foreign investment.

Fidesz also supports a market economy but occasionally puts Hungarian interests ahead of foreign ones.

``What I really want to see is Orban taking us into the EU, rather than the former communists,″ Fidesz supporter Geza Sandor, a 48-year-old plumber, said, referring to Hungary’s hopes of joining the European Union in 2004.

Orban’s four years in power have been marked by economic growth, but his brash, dynamic style and appeals to nationalist sentiment have alienated many voters.

The Socialists embraced the free market when they were returned to power in 1994. A package of hard-biting reforms was widely credited with putting the economy back on its feet, but the cuts in social welfare it involved helped lead to the party’s defeat three years later.

Still, 27-year-old teacher Albert Rupeczki voted for Socialists.

``I don’t want change just for the sake of change itself, but the Socialists will prove they are better for Hungary now that they can inherit an economy that is in good shape,″ he said.

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