Hungary sticks with President 'Uncle Arpi'

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The Independent Online
Budapest - Arpad Goncz, a former writer jailed for six years after the 1956 uprising, was yesterday elected for a second five-year term as President of Hungary, writes Adrian Bridge.

In a parliamentary vote, Mr Goncz, the candidate of the Socialists and their Liberal coalition partners, comfortably beat off the challenge of his sole rival, Ferenc Madl. He has impeccable credentials and has often been compared with the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel: both are intellectuals, were persecuted under communism and both have carved out roles for themselves as consciences of their respective nations in the post-Communist era.

While internationally, Mr Goncz has been overshadowed by his more charismatic counterpart in Prague, at home he has always shone.

Although the presidential role in Hungary is largely ceremonial, Mr Goncz used his limited power of veto to block controversial media legislation during his first term of office, and pressed for tougher measures against racially-motivated crimes and campaigned on a range of human-rights issues.

There could be no greater testimony to Mr Goncz's political skills than that in 1990 he became President with the backing of the then ruling Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) while yesterday he enjoyed the support of the MDF's bitter rivals, the Socialists.

For all his erudition, Mr Goncz has nevertheless remained very much a man of the people. Indeed, to most ordinary Hungarians, the silvery- haired 73-year-old is simply known as "Arpi bacsi" - "Uncle Arpi".