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Hungary Elections Seen as Measure of Support for Embattled PM


Local elections in Hungary are being viewed as a measure of support for the embattled prime minister, who has been under intense street pressure to resign, after revelations he admitted last month to lying to the public about the economy. The center-right opposition wants the local election to serve as a referendum on the legitimacy of the Socialist-led government.

Sunday's municipal elections follow two weeks of sometimes violent anti-government protests that erupted after Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitted lying about the state of the economy. His comments to a meeting of his Socialist party were leaked to the Hungarian media, sparking outrage.

Mr. Gyurcsany has said he will not resign, and rejected the notion that the local election would be considered a referendum on his government.

Some opinion polls show that at least a small majority of voters agree the prime minister should not resign. Analysts say the Socialist-led government is expected to lose some ground in towns and villages nationwide, but the loss will be less than the opposition has suggested.

Mr. Gyurcsany has said he will press ahead with an economic austerity program, aimed at slashing Hungary's huge budget deficit - the biggest in the European Union.

A pensioner, Aranka Rittinger Tamasne says, she and her husband support the government.

"When he said lying, he did not mean: 'I am lying.' But he meant, all politicians and all parties are lying to the people," said Aranka Rittinger Tamasne. "He admitted to have lied, and we think that was very honest, and it does not disturb us, because he now wants us to do something good for Hungary, and we have to give him the chance to finish it."

Because of Sunday's mandatory campaign silence, protesters who have assembled outside Parliament every day for the past two weeks were not allowed to demonstrate, but were convening after polls closed for music and food.

Many are supporters of Fidesz, Hungary's largest center-right opposition party. Fifty two-year-old Viktor says the outcome of the municipality ballot will show whether the government still has legitimacy.

"I think we can treat this as a referendum, we can consider this as a referendum [about the government]," said Viktor.

But he says he is not sure anyone in government can overcome Hungary's economic difficulties.

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