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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Hungary premier hopes for second term
Youth supporters of the Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats at a rally
Socialists are challenging the centre-right government
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By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst
Hungarians go to the polls on Sunday in the first round of parliamentary elections.

The second round takes place two weeks later.

Viktor Orban
Viktor Orban: Suave performer
Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his centre-right Young Democrats (Fidesz) party are facing a challenge from the opposition Socialists.

Smaller parties which stand a good chance of crossing the 5% electoral threshold are the liberal Free Democrats and the far-right Justice and Life Party (MIEP).

If Viktor Orban wins, he will be the first prime minister in Central and Eastern Europe - since the fall of Communism - to serve more than one term.

Radical turned nationalist

His Young Democrats were founded in 1988 by a small group of dissident students. Since then, Orban's politics have moved from youthful radicalism, through free-market liberalism, to centre-right nationalism.

Economically speaking, Hungary is the most successful of the ex-Soviet satellites.

It has attracted more new per capita investment than its neighbours and has a growth rate twice the EU average.

The Socialists say they laid the foundations of this success, with an economic austerity programme that cost them the 1997 elections.

But Mr Orban and the Young Democrats have reaped the rewards.

Smooth operator

Mr Orban is a suave public performer.

Hungarian parliament
Parties must cross a 5% threshold to get into parliament

He has also taken some controversial decisions. Last year he pushed a bill through parliament extending various social and economic benefits to the 3.5 million Hungarians living in neighbouring countries like Romania, Slovakia and Serbia.

He has talked of a "Hungarian economic living space" encompassing the entire Carpathian basin and demanded the repeal of the Benes Decrees, under which Hungarians - and many more Germans - were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II.

Mr Orban says his political allies are centre-right leaders like Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Austria's Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, and the Germany's opposition candidate for chancellor, Edmund Stoiber.

'Worthy' agenda

Hungary's Socialist Party leader, Peter Medgyessy, has a solid reputation as an economic reformer - in the final years of Communism and as finance minister in the mid-1990s.

But his public delivery is stiff, and the Socialists' programme - mitigating the extremes of wealth and poverty and saving the media from political interference - though worthy, has not set political pulses racing.

Mr Orban claims to represent the new free-enterprise entrepreneurial class - as well as traditionalist small-town and village Hungary: everything, in fact, that stands in opposition to the Communist past and to Budapest-based liberal cosmopolitanism.

Critics say his increasingly nationalist rhetoric is partly intended to draw votes away from the openly anti-Western and anti-Semitic Justice and Life party.

Hungarian officials say Hungary is already fully prepared for EU membership - and is only kept waiting by the EU's complicated entry negotiations with the larger Poland.

However, with Hungarians politicians apparently believing that nationalism brings electoral dividends, questions are already being asked in Brussels about what sort of EU partner Hungary is likely to become.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Europe
A guide to the Hungarian election
03 Mar 00 | Europe
Hungary tackles gypsies' problems
27 Feb 01 | Europe
Hungarian PM puts football first
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Hungary
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