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Hungarian Opposition Parties Agree to Cooperate in Run-Off Election - 2002-04-11

Hungary's two main opposition parties have agreed to cooperate in the upcoming run-off parliamentary elections and in the forming of a new government, if they are successful. The accord between the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats came after their surprise lead, during the first round of voting on April 7.

The Hungarian Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats have agreed to withdraw candidates in some districts, so as not to compete with each other. They are hoping the move will help them win more places in the 386-seat parliament, during the second and final round of voting on April 21.

The parties are cooperating despite their differences. While the Socialists came from the former Soviet-backed Communist party, the more liberal Alliance of Free Democrats includes many former dissidents. Some Free Democrats were even on death row for their role in Hungary's 1956 revolution against Soviet domination, which was crushed by Russian troops.

Since the collapse of Communism however, the Socialists and the Free Democrats have found common ground. They formed a pro-Western coaliton government in 1994, but lost elections four years later.

During the first round of Hungary's parliamentary elections last Sunday, they came out narrowly ahead of the ruling center right Fidesz-Democratic Forum alliance of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

With nearly 42 percent of the vote, the Socialist Party won 55,000 more votes than Mr. Orban's alliance.

Some analysts are saying this election campaign could be Hungary's roughest, since the first democratic changes in 1990. On Wednesday Prime Minister's Orban's office admitted that a staff member distributed e-mails advising supporters to start a whispering campaign against the Socialists. They were urged to spread rumors that the opposition is seeking to sell land to foreigners, planning to raise gas and medicine prices and abolish housing and student loans.

The 38-year-old Prime Minister Orban has been hitting hard at the Socialists, warning the country faces insecurity and what he calls "the return of big capital, and drug use" under a Socialist-led government. Socialist leaders have strongly denied the accusations and describe them as a desperate attempt by Mr. Orban to stay in power. The Socialist candidate for prime minister Peter Medgyessy, who is 59, has pledged to continue social programs already in place, while trying to move his country into the European Union as early as 2004.

Meanwhile, Jewish leaders in Hungary are expressing relief at the poor showing last Sunday of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party or MIEP, which is known for its perceived anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner statements.

Erno Lazarovits is the foreign relations director of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities. "Of course I am happy that the MIEP is not in the parliament, because they are the most anti-Semitic," he said.

Mr. Lazarovits says he hopes the elections make clear that voters have moved away from nationalism in Hungary, which was a close ally of Nazi Germany during World War II, when 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed.

He says the current Prime Minister has not done enough to end anti-Semitic sentiments. "I am expecting such a Government that [will] distance itself from the anti-Semitic xenophobia, from racism and hate of foreigners," he said. "In the last four years it was not [done] and the Government did not distance itself from such phenomena."

Western diplomats had expressed concern that to stay in power Prime Minister Orban would seek cooperation with far right politicians, including members of MIEP. But the party did not receive the five percent of the vote necessary to enter Parliament in last Sunday's balloting.