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Hungary’s Bokros rejects PM job

  Former Hungarian Finance Minister Lajos Bokros has rejected a proposal that he become prime minister, leaving political parties at an impasse in their search for a new national leader. Socialists propose economy minister as PM.

Bokros was put forward on Friday as replacement for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány by the Free Democrats, whose votes the ruling Socialists need for a majority in parliament.

But Bokros said the Socialists had already rejected his new proposals for measures to tackle the global crisis which forced Hungary late last year to resort to a $25.1 billion IMF-led aid package.

“The idea that I will give my reputation and credit to a (Socialist) program, the success of which I don’t trust, is an offence” he was quoted as saying by the national news agency MTI.

He was unwilling even to consider accepting the offer to take the prime minister’s post, he said.

Socialist leaders were meeting on Saturday to try to break the impasse after a week of unsuccessful talks with the Free Democrats to find a replacement to Gyurcsány.

The country’s politics were thrown into turmoil on March 21 when Gyurcsány, struggling with low popularity and a deepening economic crisis, announced that he would step down and hand over power in early April.

The Socialists have already proposed several candidates to replace Gyurcsány, including former central bank governor György Surányi, economist András Vértes and historian Ferenc Glatz, but all were either rejected by the Free Democrats or withdrew their names from contention.

Hungary’s ruling Socialists picked Economy Minister Gordon Bajnai on Saturday to replace Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and asked their parliamentary allies to back the choice, party sources said.

Their liberal Free Democrat allies, whose votes are needed to form a majority in Parliament, said they needed time to consider the proposal and would meet on Sunday.

Hungarian politics has been in turmoil since the deeply unpopular Gyurcsany unexpectedly announced a week ago that he would quit his post as prime minister. Gyurcsany on Saturday also resigned as the chairman of the Socialist Party.

“In the end, the parliamentary group lined up behind Gordon (Bajnai) but it wasn’t a whole-hearted effort,” a senior party official told Reuters after a late-night marathon meeting. “There were some doubts about him. There were some dissenting voices but we sent his name to the Free Democrats for consideration,” the official added.

Support from the Free Democrats remains uncertain as the party has rejected at least three Socialist choices over the past several days and the candidates it has suggested did not include Bajnai, who is not a Socialist Party member.

But Free Democrat Chairman Gábor Fodor said on Friday that the parties would continue to seek a resolution as long as there was a glimmer of hope for success, as early elections would be too time-consuming and would stop the government tackling the country’s worst economic crisis in nearly two decades.

Hungary, whose economy is seen declining by 4.5% this year, needed a $25.1 billion IMF-led rescue package late last year to avoid collapse but analysts said further fiscal tightening is necessary to prevent an excessive budget deficit.

Bajnai last week said Hungary must push through the bulk of its fiscal adjustment plans in the first half of the year or risk a currency crisis, and should seek rapid euro zone membership.

“Either we take care of the crisis or the crisis takes care of us,” Bajnai told the daily newspaper Népszabadság.

Asked last week what would happen if the minority Socialist government ran into opposition and failed to push its proposals through parliament, Bajnai said: “Then we could have a currency crisis in Hungary as early as this year, which could pull the economy and society apart.”

The Socialists, who rule as a minority, need the Free Democrats’ support to elect a government because all other parliamentary parties, as well as President László Sólyom, have urged them to dissolve parliament and call for early elections.

Political analysts say both the Socialists and the Free Democrats want to avoid early elections as the Socialists face certain defeat at the hand of the conservative Fidesz party while the liberals are unlikely to reach the 5 percent needed to re-enter parliament. (Reuters)