Hungary's cliff-hanger election

In Hungary, the governing Socialist party MSZP took a narrow lead over the centre right Fidesz-KDNP in the first round of the parliamentary elections. Two smaller parties also achieved enough votes in the first round to get back into parliament. The battle ahead of the second round of voting on April 23, is indeed fierce.

Only 66 out of 176 individual constituencies were decided in the first round and the final result could go either way, although the incumbent socialist-liberal coalition seems to have the best chance. Agi Varga of Radio Budapest discussed this cliff-hanger election with the BBC's Nick Thorp in Budapest:

"This was a really interesting election. Approximately 49 percent of the electorate voted for the current government to stay in place but 49 percent also voted for change, if we include the smaller more right-wing radical parties. That said, of course, the socialists and liberals will have a much easier task preparing for victory in the second round, than will Fidesz, MCF, and any others on the right who chose to vote for a change of government in the second round."

How do you see the performances of the individual parties?

"This was a reasonable result for the socialists. It wasn't quite as good as they had been hoping for but it's a good result for Ferenc Gyurcsany as prime minister. But though this is clearly a battle won for the socialists, they haven't won the war yet.

"The Free Democrats have a pretty good result. They hung on in Budapest, got back into Parliament, so they clearly have a strong chance of continuing in government.

"For Fidesz, I think it was a mixed result and it was not a total failure by any means. They've done pretty well to come from behind as opinion polls say and as Viktor Orban [former PM and head of Fidesz] said in his comments but quite probably not enough for them to win in the next round, unless they can perform something like the kind of miracle in their terms that they managed four years ago.

"One should also stress this remarkable result that the Hungarian Democratic Forum achieved. They've really proved that they haven't been absorbed by Fidesz into this great block of right wing parties, which Fidesz has come to dominate and in fact to eradicate all the other differences. So, a very good result there for Ibolya David [Democratic Forum leader]."

Do you think that it was a challenge of programmes or a challenge of personalities?

"I think it was both, in a way, but personalities above all. It was a two-horse race between Ferenc Gyurcany and Viktor Orban. They are very different personalities. But to be fair, I think they have very different programmes as well. Ferenc Gyurcany really has dragged the socialists from almost nowhere, where they were two years ago, to this strong position. His programme is a modern pro-globalisation, pro-big business kind of programme and I think the Fidesz is not a traditional conservative programme by any means in terms of the stress on the right to work, which is after all a rather left-wing policy. Obviously their stress on the family is a traditionally conservative point. But I think one of the reasons some of the other centre-right parties of Europe had trouble making out what Viktor Orban and Fidesz stand for today is that it is an anti-globalisation party, which does make it more in the same kind of bracket as the Greens in Germany or some of the other anti-globalisation parties in Central and Western Europe."

Can we be content with the turnout?

"I think it is a good turnout. It's more than five percent more than the opinion polls suggested and I think this is another sign of the opinion pollsters really not being very accurate in this country - both in terms of the result (they were predicting a much bigger socialist victory) and in terms of the turnout (most of them were predicting about 61 percent). So, this obviously is a little bit less than the first round four years ago, but it was a good day for democracy in terms of the high turnout (more than two thirds of the voters, which puts a lot of the western European countries to shame) but also with the fact that four parties got into Parliament. This probably is a good thing for democracy because a two-party system might have rather limited the options of the Hungarian voters."