Hungary's Socialists close to coalition deal

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The Independent Online
HUNGARY'S former Communists, the outright winners in last month's parliamentary elections, are close to persuading the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (AFD) to join a coalition government.

After more than a week of talks, leaders of the renamed Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP) and the AFD have confirmed a tentative accord under which the liberals will acquire extensive powers in the new government. In return, they will share responsibility for what may well prove to be unpopular policies.

Under the terms of the accord, expected to be ratified next week at separate party congresses, Gyula Horn, the HSP leader, will become the prime minister.

For its part, the AFD will choose the deputy prime minister, a new post to be given effective power of veto over policy decisions and government nominations. Most observers believe the post will be filled by Gabor Kuncze, the AFD's candidate for prime minister during the election campaign.

'As far as I am aware there is no precedent for this sort of agreement in Europe,' said Mr Horn, who was foreign minister in Hungary's reformist Communist government of 1989-90.

'Where else would a party with an absolute majority give a party with far fewer MPs the right not only to co-ordinate policy but also to help form it?'

It is a fair question. In the election, the Socialists took 209 out 386 parliamentary seats, decisively ending four years of centre- right coalition government led by the Hungarian Democratic Forum. In theory, nothing would have been simpler than for the Socialists to restore the one-party system of the past.

In part, the Socialists' wooing of the liberals stems from their desire to distance themselves from the methods of their discredited Communist predecessor, the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, which ruled the country from the late 1940s until 1989.

The two parties take a broadly similar approach to many issues, particularly over the economy, where both agree further tough cutbacks are needed to bring down the country's budget deficit. The most important factor, however, is the Socialists' desire to secure a broader base of support for the new government.

Despite winning 54 per cent of the parliamentary seats, the Socialists got only 33 per cent of the vote. By adding the 20 per cent won by the AFD (which won 70 seats), the Socialists can say most Hungarians back the government.

'It is quite clear that, despite giving us an absolute majority, the public wants a Socialist-Liberal coalition, which will be seen as a guarantor of more democratic and effective government,' Andras Bard, a Socialist spokesman, said.

'It will be an extremely unusual arrangement. But then the situation in Hungary is very unusual at the moment.'