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Hungary: The ‘a yes’ have it! - extended

Hungary’s government suffered an unexpectedly large defeat in the opposition-sponsored referendum on Sunday to strike down health and university fees, but said it would not bow to pressure to quit. Finance Minister János Veres rejected a proposal by the main opposition party Fidesz to use budget revenues from the gaming tax to make up for the shortfall of revenues of hospital, doctors and universities due to the elimination of tuition fees and healthcare co-payments in line with the outcome of Sunday’s referendum.

With 94% of the votes counted, each of the three questions on the ballot received 82%-84% support, the national election office (OVI) said, showing they had passed with a big majority, contrary to the forecasts of most pollsters. The main opposition Fidesz party said, socialist (MSzP) Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány had suffered a “humiliating defeat” but few analysts believed the vote had wider implications for the unpopular government or that it would quit before the general elections in 2010.

The government coalition moved quickly to say it would respect the outcome of the referendum, which asked voters to strike down fees of Ft 300 for doctor and hospital visits as well as charges for university tuition. It also dismissed claims that the referendum was a surrogate election or that the government should quit. Results on Sunday indicated Fidesz managed to reach well beyond its core voter base and attracted traditional socialist voters as “yes” votes equaled around 3.2 million on Sunday, well ahead of the 2.3 million it polled in the last election.

Most polls had forecast the referendum would scrape through on a small turnout. The vote reflects more a general dissatisfaction with the policies of this government, than people’s opinion on these particular issues, said Gábor Török, a political analyst with think-tank Vision Consulting.

Fidesz submitted to Parliament a respective bill to Parliament by Monday morning. “New budget allocations cannot be made without extra revenue or without widening the budget deficit, or without lowering those budget allocations,” Veres said after Hungarians decisively rejected recently introduced tuition fees and co-payments for doctors visits and hospital stays in a referendum on Sunday. Veres said the Ft 70 billion from the gaming tax is used to finance sport, children’s institutions, local councils, schools, pre-schools and subsidize pension payments. (Reuters, Napi Gazdaság, Gazdasági Rádió, Népszava, MTI-Econews)