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Socialist Party Scores Upset in Hungary


Hungary's opposition Socialist Party scored an upset over outgoing conservatives Sunday in the first-round of Hungary's parliamentary elections. The country will have to wait for a second round of polls in a few weeks for a definitive outcome.

As the election results came in, applause erupted at the headquarters of the Hungarian Socialist Party, the democratic successors of to the former Soviet-backed Communist Party.

In a surprise turnaround from initial results, the Socialists edged out Prime Minister Viktor Orban's center-right Federation of Young Democrats Hungarian Civic Party, also known as Fidesz, with 42 percent of the vote versus Fidesz's 41 percent.

The 59-year-old Socialist candidate, Peter Medgyessy, a former finance minister, told his supporters that Hungarians voted for change. "I think we can now say from our heart that we can declare that we have won the first election round," he says. Mr. Medgyessy adds that the results also show that a majority of Hungarians want a change of government. But Mr. Medgyessy cautioned that he will only celebrate after the results are in for the final round on April 21.

Western diplomats have expressed concern that to ensure re-election, Mr. Orban may seek closer ties with ultra right-wing politicians, including representatives of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, or MIEP.

Although officials of his own Fidesz party have said they do not want a governing coalition with MIEP, Prime Minister Orban has refused to rule it out. But official results show that MIEP, known for its anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner statements, did not receive the necessary five percent to be able to enter the 386-seat Parliament. MIEP leaders had hoped to win 15 percent of the vote in order to align with the Fidesz party.

Despite the setback, thirty-eight-year-old Prime Minister Orban did not concede defeat, saying he wanted to wait for the outcome of Hungary's second round of voting. "The time has come when we can summarize what we have to do with today's election results," Mr. Orban says. He points out that his supporters will have to analyze their abilities and figure out what the party can do within the next two weeks. However analysts say that without MIEP's support it will be difficult for Mr. Orban to continue his government.

Whomever wins Hungary's final round of voting will likely usher the former Communist country into membership in the European Union as early as 2004.

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