- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

BUDAPEST (AP) Hungary's opposition Socialist Party won a small but likely decisive victory in the first round of parliamentary elections and prepared to consult with a potential ally yesterday on winning a runoff.

An ultranationalist party known for its occasional anti-Semitic rhetoric failed to get the 5 percent of the votes it needed Sunday to gain parliamentary representation. A good performance by the Hungarian Justice and Life Party could have threatened Hungary's bid to join the European Union in 2004.

The Socialists won 42 percent of votes for party lists, narrowly topping the governing coalition of the Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Party and the Hungarian Democratic Forum, which received 41.1 percent support.

But the election will not be decided until after April 21, when Hungarians will vote in a second round to decide districts where no one won outright in the first round or where turnout was less than 50 percent.

The Socialists are expected to win most of the runoffs, since their old allies, the Alliance of Free Democrats, placed third in many of the constituencies.

Sunday's results upset the predictions of most of the major pollsters, who expected a narrow victory for Fidesz.

"Only hours ago, they were celebrating over at Fidesz headquarters," Socialist Party President Laszlo Kovacs said at a news conference after results were announced. "The only difference is that they were celebrating the polls and we are celebrating results."

Meanwhile, Fidesz leaders assured their voters that a comeback was possible, if very difficult, in the second round.

"So far, it is less than 1 percent of the voters who have tipped the scales in favor of the Socialists," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

But the words of encouragement to his followers could barely conceal his disappointment in the election results.

"I only heard his speech on the radio, but even I could see the tears in his eyes," said taxi driver Zoltan Jonas, 60.

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