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Hungarians Go to Polls Despite Heavy Flooding

Hungarians are voting in their first parliamentary election since joining the European Union, despite concerns that heavy flooding complicates the ballot in several areas of the country. The election pits the free-market ruling left-wing coalition against the more protectionist rightist opposition. Exit polls indicate a tight race between the governing Socialist Party and the center-right opposition.

In Hungary more than 45,000 people, including soldiers, participated in shoring up dikes to ensure voters in flood stricken regions could participate in the country's fifth parliamentary ballot since it abandoned Communism in 1989.

Parts of Budapest and nearly 200 other towns and villages were affected by record floods, but authorities managed to open thousands of polling stations.

Hungary's eight million eligible voters could choose between the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party and its tiny liberal ally, the Alliance of Free Democrats, which embrace globalization or the more protectionist center-right opposition.

Opinion polls suggest 44-year old Hungarian Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany will likely win the close race against his main rightist opponent Viktor Orban of the conservative Fidesz party. It would mark the first time that a Hungarian government has been re-elected for a consecutive term since the collapse of Communism in 1989.

Mr. Gyurcsany, an ex-Communist youth boss who became a millionaire businessman, says Hungary should become "a nation of winners" by embracing what he calls "compassionate capitalism."

Ironically the 42-year old rightist Viktor Orban, a former anti-Communist dissident and ex-prime minister, has accused the Socialists of embracing "wild capitalism," and calls for more protectionism.

But both parties have promised to introduce tax cuts worth billions of dollars while at the same time pledging more social-program spending.

Economists say this is unrealistic as the country needs to halve its budget deficit to meet the 2010 target date to introduce the euro as the nation's official currency.

Some young voters, like 22-year old voter Robert Fernandy, who studies economics, complain that Hungarian politicians are not mature enough to make sensible business decisions.

"I was born in Germany and it is another [way of conducting] politics here [than] in Germany and France. I can only laugh about it, it is not serious for me. Because they do not speak about the things that are important for the country," said Fernandy. "I want to hear about the economy and I want to hear [what they want to do] about the unemployment. They only say: 'I want to create more jobs,' like 400,000 jobs as [Prime Minister] Gyurscany said. But it is not possible to make 400,000 jobs."

Analysts say that whoever comes to power will have little room to maneuver because of Hungary's budget deficit, which is the highest in the European Union relative to the size of the economy.

First official results expected later in the day. Voter turnout is expected to around 70 percent, roughly the same as the last elections in 2002.