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Socialists Win in Hungary Elections

April 21, 2002

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ The Socialists and their allies triumphed over the governing center-right coalition on Sunday, in a second round of balloting that gave them a slight parliamentary majority.

With 99 percent of votes counted, the Socialists and the Alliance of Free Democrats had won 198 of parliament’s 386 seats, according to results published by the electoral commission. The Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party, the present government, took 188 seats.

The center-right did better in Sunday’s voting, called to decide seats not won by at least 50 percent in the first round, gaining primarily through support in rural regions. But the Socialist-Free Democrat coalition won overall on the strength of their combined showing in the first and second rounds. They took a total of 97 seats April 7, compared to 87 for the Fidesz-led government coalition.

Still, the results did not automatically mean a new government. President Ferenc Madl still has the option of asking Fidesz _ as the strongest individual party _ to attempt to put together a working coalition.

But with the Free Democrats committed to supporting the Socialists, it seemed unlikely that Fidesz could persuade enough Socialists or Free Democrats to defect to give the center-right the majority it would need to remain in government.

Turnout was 71.19 percent, the highest since the end of communist rule in 1990.

With few major differences between the parties in terms of policy _ both promised tax cuts and strong economic growth _ the campaign was a contest of contrasting styles.

Plumber Geza Sandor, 48, indirectly acknowledged that his preferences were driven less by issues and more by emotions, as he cast his ballot for Fidesz, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

``What I really want to see is Orban taking us into the EU, rather than the former communists,″ he said, referring Hungary’s hopes of joining the European Union, and the Socialist Party’s communist roots.

Teacher Albert Rupeczki, 27, 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.

Orban, a leading figure in the opposition to communism in the late 1980s, claimed that a Socialist victory, and a government under his rival, Peter Medgyessy, would bring the rule of ``big capital.″ The Socialists are considered more supportive of free foreign investment. Fidesz also supports a market economy but occasionally puts so-called Hungarian interests ahead of foreign ones.

Orban’s four years in power have been marked by continuing economic growth and a consolidation of the previously fragmented right-wing political scene. However, his brash, dynamic style and appeals to nationalist sentiment have alienated many voters.

The Socialists, successors to the Communist party which ruled Soviet dominated Hungary for 40 years, embraced the free market when they were returned to power in 1994. A package of hard-biting economic reforms in 1995 was widely credited with putting the economy back on its feet, but the cuts in social welfare it involved played a major role in the party’s defeat three years later.

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