Noncommunists Win in Landslide
A CENTER-RIGHT coalition with Jozsef Antall as its prime minister is set to take over as Hungary's first noncommunist government in more than 40 years. That follows the landslide victory by Mr. Antall's party, the Hungarian Democratic Forum, in the second round of the Hungarian elections on Sunday. The Forum won more than 42 percent of the vote and 165 of 386 seats in the new parliament, nearly twice as much as its main rival, the alliance of Free Democrats, with 23 percent and 92 seats.
Antall intends quickly to form a strong coalition with two smaller parties on the right - the independent Smallholders Party and the Christian Democratic People's Party. Together, they will control almost 60 percent of the seats in parliament. Its first priority, he says, will be to steer Hungary out of its deep economic crisis.
Antall, a historian and former schoolmaster, is the director of a music library. In 1956 as a student, he participated in the Hungarian revolution and spent time in prison for his political activities. Still, in many ways, he personifies the cautious, conservative style of democratic Hungary's leading political force.
The Forum's clear victory came came as a complete surprise after it practically ran neck and neck with the Free Democrats, its main rival, in the first election round on March 25. The Forum then captured 24.7 percent of the vote and secured 40 seats, with 21.4 percent and 34 seats for the Free Democrats.
The loser, the Free Democrats, is a liberal and Western-oriented party with its strength among urban intellectuals. Democratic Forum is more conservative, nationalistic, and has its strength in the Hungarian countryside.
The victory came on a gray, rainy day, with the electorate showing great weariness toward the election process, already deemed much too elaborate and complicated.
The turnout, only 64 percent in the first round, sank to 45 percent. It is unclear how this affected the vote.
It is also still unclear why the voting pattern shifted so sharply between the two rounds. Observers in Budapest talk about people's fear of a deadlock and a weak government, arguing that a strong government was needed in these times of great change for Hungary. Apparently, the voters saw the Forum and its message as the party best suited to steer Hungary through these changes.
Only four other parties of the original 27 competing in the first round, managed to capture more than 4 percent of the vote to qualify for the second round. Of these, the independent Smallholders came third with 11 percent and 43 seats, the Socialists (the former Communists) were fourth with 8.5 percent and 33 seats, while the Young Democrats and the Christian Democrats were fifth and tied with 5.4 percent and 21 seats each in the new parliament.
The Smallholders are the power brokers in the coalition talks. In contrast to the Forum and the Free Democrats, the Smallholders Party is one of Hungary's historic parties, existing before World War II and capturing 57 percent of the vote in Hungary's last free elections in 1945. After the Communist takeover in 1947, it was banned like all other political parties.
Its election platform was based on one single message: Give the land, which was taken in 1947 by the communists, back to the people. The demand is deemed by many to be unrealistic, but it is important for Antall to find a compromise on this issue in order to obtain the cooperation of the Smallholders in his coalition.
And neither the Social Democrats nor the New Orthodox Communist Party received the necessary 4 percent to be represented in parliament.
For the Socialists the election was not a joyous occasion. Their 8.5 percent doom them to an obscure role in opposition for a long time.
As in East Germany, Hungarian communists were crushed by more conservative forces. Once again, in this spring of free elections in Eastern Europe, the weakness of the left after 40 years of communism has been strongly underlined.