Old foes agree to Hungarian coalition

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THE successors to the Hungarian Communist Party and the heirs of the dissident movement that opposed it yesterday agreed to join forces in an unprecedented coalition government.

Under the agreement, which took almost three weeks to conclude, the renamed Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP) will receive nine out of 12 cabinet posts, including that of prime minister and the key foreign, defence, finance and economics ministries. For its part, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (AFD) will receive just three cabinet portfolios: interior, infrastructure and education. The former will be combined with a new post - coalition deputy prime minister - which will carry with it extensive powers.

The agreement followed parliamentary elections last month in which the HSP, riding a tide of discontent over economic hardships, stormed to a dramatic victory, acquiring 54 per cent of the country's 386 parliamentary seats.

If it had wanted to, the party could easily have ruled alone. Instead it immediately sought to woo the AFD into a coalition which would enjoy broader support. In addition to commanding more than 70 per cent of parliamentary seats, the two parties together received 50 per cent of the vote.

After yesterday's signing ceremony, Gyula Horn, the HSP leader and future prime minister, declared that the agreement was of historic importance. 'It is time to stop looking into the past and to start looking forward,' he said.

During the election campaign, the Free Democrats consistently stated they did not want Mr Horn to be prime minister because of his own past - in 1956 he was a member of one of the militias that helped to put down the uprising against the Communists. Ivan Peto, chairman of the AFD, yesterday also called for reconciliation. 'Because of the will of the voters, two parties that in the past had the greatest disagreements will now rule together,' he said.

In their seeming desperation to bring the liberals on board, the HSP appeared at one point willing to grant them almost equal weight in government. Yesterday's agreement, however, indicated quite clearly that the Socialists will be the dominant partner. The Socialists have agreed to grant the liberals broad powers to approve key government policy decisions and candidates for important posts.