Hungarian Opposition Sweeps By-Elections

HUNGARY'S strongest opposition group has humiliated the ruling Communist Party in the second leg of the country's first free elections since 1947. Two candidates backed by the Hungarian Democratic Forum defeated Communists by a margin of about 3 to 1 in two by-elections Saturday. In a third race, which first-round results last month had suggested the Communist Party might win, the turnout fell below the necessary 50 percent, and the seat was declared vacant until national elections due next year.

The opposition won its first parliamentary seat in the first round of the four elections on July 22. They were run as free elections, although parliament is not due to vote on legislation to recognize opposition political parties until later this year.

The results sent a bleak message to the party as it approaches the general election. The election must take place by early June 1990 and it will be fought on a formal multiparty basis.

HDF founding member Geza Jeszenszki said, ``It should mean some kind of promise for my own party but far more importantly a sign that an increasing number of people seem to have realized that there is a chance of change in Hungary.''

The HDF's Jozef Debreczeni, a high-school teacher, polled 70.4 percent against 21.4 for the Communist and 9 percent for a third candidate in Kecskemet.

In southern Szeged, historian Erno Raffay took 61.9 percent while the Communist candidate polled just over 22 percent.

Lutheran minister Gabor Roszik was elected to parliament for Godollo, near Budapest, by a similar margin. He was backed by an HDF-led alliance.

The Communist Party's decision to send its popular new president Rezso Nyers out campaigning clearly failed to boost its showing.

Voters told Reuters at one polling station they would refuse to vote for a Communist candidate however well-qualified or reformist he might be.

Founded less than two years ago around a nucleus of populist writers, the HDF now has around 17,000 members and campaigns on a platform of popular sovereignty and social welfare.

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