Hungary's Socialists suffer as voters show anger at the polls

Hungary's ruling Socialist party was last night facing substantial losses in local elections following two weeks of street protests sparked by the Prime Minister's admission that he had lied to win re-election.

The vote was widely seen as a referendum on the leadership of Ferenc Gyurcsany, whose government has been badly shaken by a leaked tape in which he admitted that he deliberately misled voters about the state of the economy.

With more than 80 per cent of the votes counted last night, the opposition Fidesz party seemed poised to win the mayorships in 15 of Hungary's 23 largest cities, as well majorities in the county councils in 18 of the 19 counties - most of which had previously been held by the Socialists.

Moments after polls closed, the country's President, Laszlo Solyom, accused Mr Gyurcsany of undermining confidence in democracy, apparently calling on the parliament to replace him. In a nationally broadcast speech, he said Mr Gyurcsany "does not acknowledge that he used improper means to hold on to power and then begin putting the state finances in order ... this undermines the trust in democracy."

The President said he had no power to intervene in "the present situation" but seemed to imply that the Socialist-led coalition, which has a majority in parliament, should choose a new Prime Minister.

"The parliament can restore the required social confidence. The key to the solution lies with the parliamentary majority," he said. But last night Mr Gyurcsany said that he had full support of the governing coalition, and pledged to push onwards with a programme of economic reforms. "I want to remain Prime Minister of a government that pursues these policies," he told a news conference.

Mr Gyurcsany's admission that the government had mishandled the economy was the trigger for some of the worse rioting since the 1956 revolution.

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