April 9, 2006

Hungarians start vote in 1st poll since joining EU

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's 8 million voters started
voting on Sunday to choose between a Socialist-led government
which says the country needs to embrace globalisation and an
opposition which wants a "patriotic" economic policy.

This is the fifth parliamentary election since communism
ended in 1989 and the first since the country of 10 million
people joined the European Union.

Polls taken before a blackout last week showed the
Socialists and their partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats,
had a small lead over the conservative Fidesz.

If those polls are borne out by the voting, then it would
be the first win for an incumbent since communism ended.

The opposition is confident however that its rural support
and door-to-door campaign will deliver victory.

Polls will close at 1700 GMT and results will start to come
in within an hour. By 2100 GMT, more than 95 percent of votes
will be known.

Turnout will be key. A high turnout is seen favouring the
Socialists, as it did in the last election in 2002.

To stand any chance of retaining power, the Free Democrats
need to pass the 5 percent threshold needed to get into

There is a second round of voting on April 23 and the polls
are taking place at a time of huge strain on the budget.

Hungary has the biggest deficit in the European Union
relative to the size of the economy, which needs to be halved
to three percent to join the euro.