Hungarian Socialists begin talks on power

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Hungary's socialist Party invited the Alliance of Free Democrats to begin formal coalition talks yesterday.

The Socialists gained 178 parliamentary seats in Sunday's second round of elections, while the Free Democrats won 20. The Socialists need 194 seats for a majority in the 386-seat house.

The joint list of the ruling Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party and the Hungarian Democratic Forum won 188 seats, but a deal with the Free Democrats is practically out of the question. Though Fidesz and the Free Democrats were allies in the 1990 elections, Fidesz has since replaced its liberal views with conservative policies.

The Socialists and the Free Democrats were coalition partners from 1994-98. Even so, the Free Democrat leader, Gabor Kuncze, said he expected negotiations to set up the coalition to last as much as six to seven weeks. "We want to implement as many points of our program as possible," Mr Kuncze said, adding that tax cuts, reforms in the health sector and anti-corruption measures were his party's priorities.

President Ferenc Madl must convene the new parliament within 30 days after the elections and later nominate a candidate for Prime Minister, who, if approved by parliament, will set up the new government. Peter Medgyessy, the Socialists' candidate for the post of Prime Minister, emphasised that his first objective would be to honour campaign promises for sweeping changes in his first 100 days.

Fidesz, which trailed after the first round, almost managed to turn around the election on the strength of feverish campaigning by the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, in rural areas. But Budapest, which accounted for nearly 20 per cent of all votes, remained a Socialist stronghold.