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After 2 weeks of protests, Hungarians take to the ballot box

After 2 weeks of protests, Hungarians take to the ballot box

Two weeks after the start of anti-government protests _ and the worst rioting since the 1956 revolution _ Sunday's municipal elections will give Hungarian voters a swift chance to bolster or reject a government that has admitted lying to them about the economy.
A leaked confession showed Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany telling his party that the coalition's April re-election had been aided by disguising the real state of the economy, which it was able to keep up only through "divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy and hundreds of tricks."
Despite the protests _ which began just hours after the leaked recording was broadcast on local media and which occasionally have drawn more than 20,000 people demanding his resignation _ Gyurcsany has refused to apologize for his May speech and has vowed to stay in his post.
On Sunday, almost 8.2 million voters will choose mayors and representatives for local, county and ethnic minority councils in 3,174 settlements around the country. Voting booths will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. (0400-1700 GMT).
Before a ban on campaigning took effect at the end of Friday, government and center-right opposition leaders made their last televised appeal to voters.
"I am an extraordinarily committed reformer," Gyurcsany said. "It is up to the country to decide whether they want such a prime minister."
Former premier Viktor Orban, chairman of Fidesz, the main opposition group, said Sunday's elections were of historic significance and no matter the outcome, "a new era will begin on (Monday)."
Fidesz has criticized the austerity measures the government has been imposing in its attempt to lower the state budget gap _ at over 10 percent of gross domestic product for 2006, by far the largest in the European Union.
"On Sunday, the country will decide whether we accept the lies and the austerity package," Orban said. "Whether we accept that it is Hungarians' fate that from time to time the government, because of its own mistakes, drives the country into a crisis, takes away their money ... and then starts over again."
Municipal elections like those to be held Sunday are usually an opportunity for governing parties to beef up their positions. Gyurcsany has stated less ambitious goals, hoping the coalition will retain power in Budapest and in most of the country's 23 biggest cities.
Gyurcsany has repented for the style _ but not the substance _ of the expletive-filled May speech to Socialist lawmakers in which he said the government lied "morning, evening and night" and neglected to implement reforms between 2002 and its April victory.
Two nights of rioting early last week left nearly 150 police and dozens of protesters injured. Beside the large protests in Kossuth Square outside parliament, smaller protests have been held in cities held across the country.
With the next elections set to be held in June 2009 _ to choose representatives for the European Parliament _ a respectable outcome on Sunday would give the coalition more than two years for the positive effects of the planned reforms to begin to show.
"The government parties would have to suffer a spectacular defeat for the apparently very unified trust in Ferenc Gyurcsany to be shattered," said political analyst Orsolya Szomszed of the Vision Consulting agency.
But risks for the prime minister remain.
"If Fidesz does make big gains ... it might also splinter Socialist support for (Gyurcsany)," Juliet Sampson, a London-based analyst with HSBC bank, said in a report. "But a sweeping win for Fidesz is far from assured, and is not the most likely outcome."
Steadfast backing for Gyurcsany from the Socialists and the Alliance of Free Democrats _ their coalition partners _ may make it difficult for the opposition to claim more than a moral victory, even if it manages substantial gains on Sunday.
"The strategy of demanding Gyurcsany's resignation seems almost totally improbable from a political point of view," Vision Consulting's Szomszed said. "Ferenc Gyurcsany almost certainly will not resign ... and the chances of (the coalition) expressing their lack of confidence in him and naming a new prime minister are quite small."


Updated : 2021-10-22 16:09 GMT+08:00