Stunning win for centre-right Fidesz party

 

Jubilant supporters of the centre-right Fidesz Hungarian Civic Party celebrated with champagne after their stunning election victory over the ruling Socialists.

Mr Viktor Orban (35), Fidesz's youthful leader, was greeted by a shout of "Welcome Mr Prime Minister" as he got out of his car at party headquarters in Budapest on Sunday and was mobbed by well-wishers.

"The citizens have decided to commission Fidesz to form the next government," Mr Orban told a large news conference.

Final results gave Fidesz the most seats, with 148 members in the 386-seat parliament. The Socialists, led by the former communist Prime Minister, Mr Gyula Horn, won 134 seats.

Fidesz supporters, mostly in their 20s and 30s, flocked to the party's headquarters where waiters wearing bow ties served case after case of champagne to leading Hungarian conservative celebrities, including politicians, writers, actors, and sports personalities.

The gathering was evidence of how Fidesz had achieved its victory - by embracing most of Hungary's rightwing forces, which had been disunited and disenchanted after a humiliating defeat by the Socialists four years ago.

Mr Orban, reported to have been told by the ailing former conservative Prime Minister, Mr Jozsef Antall, in December 1993 that he was the man to take up Mr Antall's centre-right mantle, said he could not imagine a grand coalition with the Socialists.

Fidesz has said the Socialist-led government allowed corruption and crime to flourish while the gap between rich and poor widened.

Mr Orban said Fidesz and its ally, the Democratic Forum, which won 17 seats, would consider ruling together with the third-placed Smallholders, which won 48 seats.

All three parties support membership of NATO and the European Union while Fidesz has promised 7 per cent economic growth. "We would like Hungarian people to live as well as people in the European Union live," Mr Orban said.

The celebrations contrasted sharply with the mood at the headquarters of the defeated Socialists.

Slovakia said yesterday that the victory of the Fidesz Civic Party would help improve the often-strained relations between the neighbouring countries.

Budapest says the 500,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, are being unfairly treated.

Fidesz has made few concrete statements on Hungarian minorities living abroad, but in opposition frequently criticised the ruling Socialists for taking too soft a line.