Hungarian victors may go it alone

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The Independent Online
THE PROSPECT of a new broad- based governing coalition assuming power in Hungary appeared to recede yesterday after it was confirmed that the former Communists had secured an outright majority in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Magyar Balint, campaign manager of the second-placed Alliance of Free Democrats (AFD), said his party, whose MPs would be outnumbered 3:1 by those of the victorious Hungarian Socialists (HSP), would not be keen to enter a situation of 'dependency'.

Socialist leaders, for their part, continued to insist that they wanted a coalition with the AFD. At the same time, however, growing numbers seemed to be throwing their weight behind the nomination of the party leader, Gyula Horn, for the post of prime minister - a move firmly opposed by the Free Democrats. Both parties are due to hold congresses: the HSP on Saturday and the AFD on Sunday. But if a deal is to be struck, it will almost certainly be negotiated in private beforehand.

In addition to rendering a coalition mathematically unnecessary, the astonishing success of the HSP, which now commands 209 out of 386 parliamentary seats, has cast doubt over Hungary's continuing commitment to rapid, free-market economic reform.

The party is deeply divided over the way ahead, with a liberal wing headed by the former finance minister, Laszlo Bekesi, urging tight fiscal restraint, while the party's old guard, heavily supported by the unions, propose huge increases in social welfare spending.

If the party had not done so well in the election, the liberal wing would have triumphed, with Mr Bekesi's austerity programme being presented as the price to be paid for an alliance with the AFD.

Freed from the need to do business with the Free Democrats, the party's populists may now gain the upper hand, plunging the country into a frenzy of state spending, price-freezing and higher handouts for all - in line with what many in the country want.

'Many people voted Socialist because they thought it would mean higher pensions, better health care and jobs for life,' an AFD source said. 'Now they may well get it - but the consequences for the country might be lethal.'

According to the source, the Free Democrats might be persuaded to join a coalition if, instead of Mr Horn, the HSP nominated Mr Bekesi as the prime minister. 'He would be a good compromise candidate,' said the source. 'With Mr Bekesi as prime minister, we would feel the HSP was genuine about wanting economic reform.'

The sacrifice of Mr Horn's ambitions may be a price the HSP is prepared to pay. Given the party's Communist past, many HSP members believe the inclusion of the AFD in a coalition would help to legitimise their government.

It would also help to reassure would-be investors. At the same time, bringing in a partner would mean that blame for any future policy failures would be shared.

WITHIN hours of Sunday's results being declared, Imre Szekeres, vice-president of the HSP, declared that the new government would seek to speed up Hungary's integration into the European Union. At the same time, he said that while supporting the rights of the 3 million ethnic Hungarians living outside the country, it would seek to improve ties with neighbouring states.

Leading article, page 13

New face of Socialism, page 14