HUNGARY'S elections culminate two years of vigorous reform, during which the country often broke new ground for its East European neighbors. More recently, however, Hungarians have seemed to trail the pack, with communist hangers on, reform-minded though they are, still in charge. The voters changed that. Communist traditionalists, calling themselves the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, tallied less than 4 percent, not enough to win representation in the new parliament. The reform Hungarian Socialist Party did a little better at 11 percent. Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth, a Socialist running as an independent, won big. But Imre Pozsgay, the former communist who engineered much of Hungary's reform, managed only third place in his district.
Hungarians clearly demand a clean break with socialism, but their preferred route to the future is less clear. The Democratic Forum was top vote getter, by a slim margin. It has a free market agenda, but a less urgent one than its close rival, the Alliance of Free Democrats. The forum draws support from professionals and other middle class voters and from rural areas. It appeals to Hungarian nationalism and played heavily on the repression of ethnic Hungarians in Romania. Its natural coalition partner would be the Independent Smallholders, a party that centers its attention on property rights.
The Alliance of Free Democrats could conceivably link with the Federation of Young Democrats. This coalition would push for rapid westernization of Hungary's economy and a quick exit from old Soviet-bloc alliances.
An April 8 runoff will determine final representation in parliament. Meanwhile, thousands of Hungarians will be making their choices from a greatly reduced field. Despite somewhat fragmented results, Hungary's elections provide fundamental training in democracy. The process seems unwieldy, but it's purposefully designed to embrace the widest possible field of participants.
Every such exercise removes Eastern Europe further from a repressive past. Next: Romania's elections in April, Bulgaria's in May, and Czechoslovakia's in June.