Tue, Oct 03, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Opposition makes substantial gains in Hungarian elections


Hungary's center-right opposition parties made substantial gains in nationwide elections on Sunday, following two weeks of protests over Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's admission that he lied about the economy.

Shortly after the polls closed in the municipal elections, Hungary's president made a broadcast speech in which he accused Gyurcsany of undermining trust in democracy and appeared to suggest parliament should replace him.

But the Socialist prime minister, who has resisted weeks of demands that he step down, vowed on Sunday to continue reforms and austerity measures despite the electoral setback for the coalition parties.

"I would like to remain the prime minister who continues these policies," Gyurcsany said, adding that the leader of the Socialists' coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats, assured him of their support.

He had said he wanted to run for chairmanship of his party early next year but, asked on Sunday about that plan, he said, "Everything has to be rethought."

The elections were seen as a chance for voters to judge the government after the leak of a tape on which Gyurcsany admitted repeatedly lying to the country about the economy.

Two days of riots two weeks ago -- attributed mainly to soccer hooligans but seemingly rooted in the anti-government mood -- left nearly 150 police and dozens of participants injured.

Large crowds of protesters have demonstrated peacefully since then. And at least 10,000 people were outside parliament on Sunday night, demanding Gyurcsany's resign.

The National Election Office said the turnout of 53 percent on Sunday was Hungary's highest for municipal elections since 1990 return to democracy. The previous record was 51 percent in 2002.

According to preliminary results released by the election office, with some 88 percent of the votes counted, the opposition Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union seemed poised to win the mayorships in at least 15 of Hungary's 23 largest cities, as well majorities in the county councils in 18 of the 19 counties.

The election office said nearly definitive results were expected by yesterday afternoon.

Socialists were seen retaining power in most of Budapest's 23 districts and Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky -- supported by the two-party government coalition -- was likely to win his fifth consecutive term since the 1990 return to democracy.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban said the results demonstrated that citizens had voted for Gyurcsany's ouster.

"Hungarian voters tonight have replaced the prime minister in office," Orban said at his party's headquarters.

"We call on the Socialist Party to refrain from going against the will of the people and to carry out the voters' decision," he added.

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