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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
A guide to the Hungarian election
Passers-by framed against an election campaign poster in Budapest
Orban may have difficulties finding coalition partners
Hungary's parliamentary election is dominated by two parties, one on the left one on the right, but smaller parties hold the key to any coalition.

Recent polls suggest that the conservative alliance headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban has edged ahead of its main challenger, the Socialist Party.

However the parties expected to come in third and fourth place have said they would rather share power with the socialists than the conservatives.

In the last parliament, Mr Orban headed a centre-right coalition comprising his Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party, the Hungarian Democratic Forum and the Independent Smallholders' Party.

Medgyessy posters go up on a Budapest bridge
Medgyessy posters go up on a Budapest bridge
This time the Smallholders have been replaced by a Romany organization, Lungo Drom.

On the left, the Hungarian Socialist Party says it will try to go it alone, without forming a formal alliance.

Early in the campaign, the conservative alliance and the Socialists were running neck and neck in the polls.

At the end of March the Fidesz-Democratic Forum alliance was registering 43% - 48%, against the Socialist Party's 36% - 39%.

These later polls showed the Free Democrats a clear third with up to 7% support, followed by the Centrum Party with 3% - 4%.

According to one poll, the Hungarian Justice and Life Party now trails with 3%.

Leaders

Viktor Orban, aged 39, steered his originally liberal Fidesz party towards a conservative model while in opposition - and continued this trend in government.

He has expressed and pursued his strong commitment "to unite the Hungarian nation across the borders".

This means forging controversial links with Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, since Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory under the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

Peter Medgyessy became the Hungarian Socialist Party's prime ministerial candidate in 2001, following a search for a leader strong enough to challenge Orban.

He does not have a seat in the outgoing parliament. A former finance minister, he has worked in banking and has come under attack for his lobbying activities.

He has just won a libel case over allegations that he exploited his socialist contacts to secure a Budapest property deal.

Gabor Kuncze, who heads the liberal Free Democrats, has ruled out collaboration with the conservatives, his former allies, declaring a marked preference for the Socialists.

Mihaly Kupa and his Centrum Party, formed just a few months ago, have acted as a magnet for conservatives disillusioned by Orban's flirtation with the nationalist Right.

This party has also indicated a preference for the Socialists.

Istvan Csurka's Hungarian Justice and Life Party is now seen as unlikely to break into parliament unless turnout is low.

He is a populist nationalist, whose tax-the-rich, anti-globalization, anti-Nato and anti-EU policies are not unlike those of the far-left Workers Party of Gyula Thuermer.

He sees his party as a natural ally of the conservative Fidesz, but his advances have been rebuffed.

Voting system

Candidates will compete for 386 seats in the National Assembly.

Of these, just fewer than half (176) will be elected in first-past-the-post constituencies in two rounds.

Candidates must gain an absolute majority to win outright in the first round, while in the second round whoever gets most votes wins.

The rest of the seats - 210 - will be decided according to regional and national party lists based on a complex system of proportional representation.

The breakdown here is 152 seats from regional lists and 58 from national party lists.

Parties must get 5% of the total vote to gain seats through lists.

Turnout is also important.

Half the electorate in a given constituency must vote for the first round to be valid and 25% for the second.

In previous elections since 1989 the first round yielded very few final results.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

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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