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Hungary’s PM frontrunner won’t run without Fidesz - updated

Banker György Surányi, seen as frontrunner to replace Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, said on Thursday he would not run for the post if opposition party Fidesz withheld support for his candidacy. Hungary’s ruling Socialists scrambled on Thursday to find a new candidate for prime minister after their three picks either pulled out of contention or were rejected by the Free Democrats, their potential ally.

The Socialists have come up with several new names, including Mihály Patai, the chairman and chief executive of UniCredit’s domestic arm, and will present his and several other names on Friday when they resume talks with the Free Democrats, a top party source told Reuters.

“There are several names in the hat and Patai is among them,” the source told Reuters. “The party knows time is running out so I think there’s a good chance for agreement tomorrow.” Patai, who is the president of the Budapest Stock Exchange and ran insurer Allianz’s domestic unit for 10 years, could not be reached for comment.

Earlier on Thursday, frontrunner György Surányi, a former central bank governor, pulled out of contention after he failed to secure the support of the main centre-right opposition, Fidesz, which has a big opinion poll lead over the Socialists. Surányi had linked accepting the candidacy to having some degree of support from all parties in parliament.

The Socialists, who have ruled in a minority for the past year, need the Free Democrat votes to secure a safe majority for their candidate and a program to lead Hungary out of its biggest economy trouble in nearly two decades.

The nation’s politics were thrown into turmoil on Saturday when Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány announced he would step down and hand over his post in a constructive vote of no confidence, expected in early April.

MEETINGS FRIDAY

Investors who keep billions of euros in Hungarian government bonds are watching how Hungary resolves its turmoil after Gyurcsány became the latest victim of the global crisis which has hit Central European economies.

Hungary prevented financial meltdown by securing IMF-led international aid worth $25.1 billion last year and its economy is seen contracting by 4.5% this year.

Gyurcsány initially proposed Surányi, historian Ferenc Glatz and economist András Vértes as possible candidates but the Free Democrats said only Surányi was acceptable and asked the Socialists to come up with new names after his withdrawal.

“We expect the Socialists to put forward new candidates and they will do that tomorrow," Gábor Horn, a senior leader of the Free Democrats told Reuters.

Domestic media floated several other names, including Péter Felcsuti, the chief executive at Raiffeisen Bank’s Hungarian unit, who quickly rejected the speculation, as well as Antal Pongrácz, an executive at OTP Bank, who said he was not contacted.

Both the Socialists and the Free Democrats will hold internal leadership meetings early on Friday and are expected to meet later to discuss the new candidates.

Fidesz, who holds a commanding lead in opinion polls, wants the Socialists to throw in the towel and call for early elections. The smaller centre-right MDF also advocated early elections to break the gridlock.

“What goes on day after day is obviously an increasingly pathetic theatre, an extraordinary act of irresponsibility towards the country and its citizens,” Fidesz spokesman Péter Szijjártó told state news agency MTI. Hungary’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled for April or May of 2010. (Reuters)