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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Q&A: Hungary election
Political rally in front of the Hungarian parliament
This poll is the fifth since end of communism

Hungarians go to the polls on Sunday in the country's first parliamentary election since joining the EU in 2004.

The election pits the governing Socialist Party led by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany against the conservative opposition Fidesz headed by former Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Opinion polls predict a close race between the two parties, with a second round run-off slated for 23 April.

Who are the main players?

The Socialists and Fidesz - both headed by young, charismatic leaders - dominate the field.

Campaign rhetoric has largely centred on competing visions of how the economy should be run.

While Mr Gyurcsany's Socialists have favoured public-private partnerships and foreign investment, Fidesz advocates a more protectionist position to help Hungarian businesses.

With the Socialists and Fidesz running neck-and-neck in the race, however, the smaller Alliance of Free Democrats may play a pivotal role.

The key issue is whether the party - the Socialists' junior coalition partner - manages to cross the 5% threshold allowing it to enter parliament.

How does Hungary's electoral system work?

All 386 seats in parliament are up for grabs in the two-stage election - the country's fifth since the end of communism.

Votes are awarded in a complex system involving a mix of single-member constituencies and party lists based on proportional representation.

In the first round, 50% of the electorate in each constituency needs to vote for the results to be valid. In the second round, a 25% turnout is sufficient.

What do the main parties stand for?

Both Fidesz and the Socialists have fought a campaign that has been very much personality-driven.

Nevertheless, they are also divided over key issues - not only the economy, but also the country's role in the region and the broader international arena.

Mr Orban has pledged to promote national interests in Nato and the EU.

Mr Gyurcsany's Socialist Party has promoted the free market, combined with a rejection of nationalism and a call for stronger transatlantic relations.

While the two parties agree on the need to curb government spending - for which the country has come under fire from the European Commission - they have also pledged to cut taxes and raise pensions.

At more than 6% of GDP, Hungary's budget deficit is proportionately the biggest in the EU.

If Hungary is to adopt the euro as its currency, as planned, in 2010, it would need to halve its deficit over the next couple of years. That would almost inevitably require either tax increases or some fairly savage spending cuts, unless economic growth were to accelerate from its already healthy rate of more than 4%.

How is the Roma minority represented?

Both parties have courted the votes of the Roma community who, according to some estimates, make up around 6% of the country's population.

This year a new Roma party, MCF Roma Alliance - which is viewed as close to the Socialists - is running in the election.

Another group, Lungo Drom, has signed an agreement with Fidesz, which has a Roma member in the European Parliament.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

Country profile: Hungary
01 Feb 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Hungary
12 Oct 05 |  Country profiles

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