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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 00:03 GMT 01:03 UK
Socialists ahead in Hungary poll
Viktor Orban (L) watches as an old woman casts her vote
The full government will be decided in a runoff in two weeks
The opposition Socialists have narrowly won the first round of voting in Hungary's parliamentary election.

With all votes counted the party was found to have 41.2% - just ahead of the coalition led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's centre-right Fidesz party which obtained 40.3% of the vote.

The election will not be fully decided for another two weeks, when a runoff will be held between the top two candidates.

A third, liberal, party, the Alliance of Free Democrats, has also done well and is expected to enter parliament.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Budapest says the liberals' success could benefit the Socialists if the two team up to help one another in the second round of voting.

The extreme-right Justice & Life Party (MIEP) was short of the 5% threshold needed to get into parliament.

Growing euphoria

Voting was brisk, with around 75% of the country's eight million voters casting their ballots - well up on the last elections, four years ago.

Our correspondent said there was growing euphoria in the Socialist Party headquarters in Budapest as the results poured in from across the country.

Peter Medgyessy
Peter Medgyessy casts his vote for the Socialists

But he says that in the election four years ago the Socialists won more votes in the first round, but went on to lose.

Mr Orban's campaign had focused on the country's booming economic growth, as well as his controversial nationalist agenda, which gives perks to ethnic Hungarians living abroad and has antagonised neighbouring countries.

"One of the most important things is the reunification of the nation across the borders," he said as he voted on Sunday.

"We are going to continue that road with the force of a steam engine," he said.

The Socialists, led by Peter Medgyessy, say Mr Orban's nationalism is harming Hungary's image abroad and accuse him of populism.

They also claim to have laid the foundations of Hungary's economic success, with an economic austerity programme that cost them the 1997 elections.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Thorpe
"The result will be of great importance for the future of Hungary"
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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