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Hungary socialists ready for rule

Viktor Orban and daughter
Orban and his daughter leave the polling booth  

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Socialists in Hungary are preparing to form the country's next government after narrowly defeating Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling centre-right coalition in a second round of voting.

Hungarians flocked to the polls in record numbers on Sunday in a knife-edge parliamentary election dominated by personalities.

The Socialists, led by Peter Medgyessy, and its ally, the Alliance of Free Democrats, won 198 of parliament's 386 seats compared to 188 to Orban's Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party.

The Socialists have put the goal of steering the former communist nation into the European Union at the forefront of their term in office.

Hungary, the EU's leading candidate state, has one of the best performing economies in the region, and aims to join the union by 2004.

Although Fidesz improved its showing on the first-round result on April it was unable to overcome the Socialists' combined count.

Record turnout helps Socialist Party to oust conservative government of Viktor Orban. CNN's Alex Kuli reports (April 22)

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President Ferenc Madl is expected to nominate Medgyessy as prime minister. After a hard-fought electoral campaign Medgyessy said his priority would be to calm the political waters.

"The country is divided in two... and it's time to unite it again," he said.

Despite the close result, Medgyessy said the all-time high voter turnout of more than 71 percent guaranteed the new government's legitimacy.

"Hungarian voters are the big winners in this election," he added.

Fidesz, which trailed significantly after the first round almost managed to turn around the election Sunday, mainly on the strength of feverish campaigning by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in rural areas, where he tried to overcome antipathy towards his strong nationalist rhetoric.

Opposition poster
Medgyessy benefitted from Orban's nationalist tone which alienated some voters  

A record 71 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot on Sunday, the highest since the fall of communist rule in 1990.

Orban, a 38-year-old Oxford University graduate, had sought to become the nation's first post-communist premier to win re-election.

But Budapest, which accounted for nearly 20 percent of all votes, remained a Socialist stronghold -- the party won 27 of 32 seats at stake in the capital.

Initial speculation that Fidesz would try to form a minority government was seemingly put to rest by Orban, who conceded defeat to Peter Medgyessy, the Socialists' candidate for the post of prime minister

"A few minutes ago, I congratulated Peter Medgyessy on his victory," Orban told his followers, soon after preliminary results were announced.

Within days of the second round, the president normally asks the largest party's leader to form a new government, a process which has a 40-day deadline.


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