Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Hungarian PM survives confidence ballot


Embattled Hungarian Prime Min-ister Ferenc Gyurcsany survived a parliamentary confidence vote on Friday, as analysts said a small rally demanding the premier's ouster showed the waning influence of the opposition.

Gyurcsany called the confidence vote to gauge the support he had to press on with unpopular austerity measures after losing local polls on Sunday to the conservative opposition.

Gyurcsany won the confidence vote as expected, with 207 in favor and 165 against, backed by his leftist coalition of Socialists and Liberals who enjoy a comfortable majority in parliament.

It was the first time a vote of confidence had been used since the country's transition from communism to democracy in 1989.

But the vote was also an attempt by Gyurcsany to put behind him a weeks-old political crisis, which was sparked by a leaked recording in which Gyurcsany said the government "lied morning, night and evening" about the economy ahead of his re-election in April.

two weeks of chaos

The revelation set off two weeks of demonstrations which degenerated into the worst riots Hungary has seen since it emerged from communism in 1989.

After the confidence vote, opposition leader Viktor Orban said Gyurcsany had created a "moral crisis" in Hungary and continued to demand his ouster at a rally of some 50,000 right-wing supporters outside parliament.

He called on supporters to protest in front of parliament between 5:00pm and 6:00pm daily until Gyurcsany resigned.

But in a surprise statement, Orban said that "in the interest of the country's stability" he would no longer demand early elections, in what analysts said was an admission of flagging support for his effort to oust the prime minister.

"Orban essentially retreated, and this opens the way for the government to go back to running the country," political analyst Krisztian Szabados told reporters.

"We were disappointed because [Orban] did not put strong pressure on the government," said 18-year old Katalin, a protester standing beside her mother who was draped in a Hungarian flag.

small showing

Analysts also noted that while tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters showed up at the protest, it was a far cry from past election rallies in which Orban managed to draw hundreds of thousands.

Friday's protest quickly broke up, with only some 3,000 demonstrators remaining in front of parliament by early evening.

The demonstration was staged after Orban gave an ultimatum this week for governing parties to oust Gyurcsany or else face protests.

Orban, who lost the past two parliamentary elections to the left, had wanted to use the result of Sunday's local ballot as a referendum on the government and its unpopular austerity package.

Gyurcsany and his coalition have rejected Orban's demand for resignation, and have called his ultimatum and his mobilization of street protests a "blackmailing" of democracy.

"The real question is: are we going to give in to an attack on the country's constitutional order, or are we going to protect it," Gyurcsany said ahead of the confidence vote.

Orban argued that voters rejected Gyurcsany's austerity package in the local elections. He says a recording leaked to the press last month was evidence the prime minister misled voters to win votes in April and was not fit for office.

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