April 12, 2006

Hungary’s Fidesz fails to win ally

By Sandor Peto

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's main right-wing party Fidesz
failed to forge an alliance with a smaller party on Wednesday,
a major blow to its hopes of overturning the ruling Socialists'
success in the first round of a two-stage election.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban had offered to stand down as his
party's candidate for prime minister in favor of a former
central banker in a bid to win the support of the Democratic
Forum in the second round of voting on April 23.

But the Forum, which emerged as kingmaker in last Sunday's
first round vote, rejected his offer and criticized Fidesz's
plan to cut taxes and increase welfare payments, which it said
would cost the already stretched budget $16 billion.

Orban promised defiantly to fight on alone, but the rebuff
by his rival rightists left the Socialist/Alliance of Free
Democrats coalition looking likely to become the only
government to win two consecutive terms since communism ended
in 1989.

In Sunday's first round, the Socialists and their allies
took 113 seats against 97 for Fidesz and 2 for the Forum. The
remaining 174 seats will be contested on April 23.

"We don't give up. I will fight, I will lead the campaign
and lead Fidesz, and I will not jump ship," Orban told the
right of center television station HirTV.

Fidesz did not formally withdraw the compromise candidature
of ex-banker Peter Akos Bod, but party sources told Reuters
that Orban, 42, the leading political figure of the right since
the dying days of communism, was likely to put himself forward
again as the party's candidate for prime minister.

"Essentially, he said he would stay and go on," a Fidesz
source who wished to remain unnamed told Reuters.

In his HirTV interview, Orban said he was committed to the
voters and would not be influenced by lobbying groups or
financial interests.

"I was a working class prime minister, I lead a working
class party, I'm committed to voters and no other factors
influence me," he said.


At just 35, Orban became Europe's youngest prime minister
when he took office in 1998, remaining in power until 2002.

To the right he is a patriotic hero but his opponents
criticize his forthright language, peppered with references to
the Socialists' communist past, as out of tune in a country
that is now a member of the European Union.

Fidesz sources predicted a renewed battle for influence
between Fidesz and the Democratic Forum, which have a history
of bitter rivalry that had made an pre-election alliance

They said Orban was determined to punish the Forum because
it had probably wrecked his chance of a second term in office.

The Forum itself hopes to become the main conservative
force in Hungarian politics if, as expected, the Socialist-led
coalition wins the election.

One Fidesz source predicted the Forum would lose half the
support it won last Sunday when it garnered 5 percent of the
overall vote, the threshold for entering parliament.

While in opposition between 2002 and 2004, Fidesz tried to
establish itself as the sole party of the right by destroying
the Democratic Forum, absorbing more than half the Forum's MPs
into its ranks and reducing the party to nine seats in

(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi, Krisztina Than,
David Chance, Andras Gergely and Gergely Szakacs)