Hungary's Prime Minister Asks Parliament for Vote of Confidence

Hungary's prime minister asked parliament on Monday to hold a vote of confidence in his government, which suffered major losses in municipal elections after weeks of protests demanding that he resign for lying about the economy.

Ferenc Gyurcsany, asking that the vote be held Friday, said he recognized that it would be about him as well as his government's policies.

"I hear the voice of criticism, and I understand the government's responsibility," Gyurcsany told reporters.

"I am asking for a vote of confidence about the government program" of economic balance, reforms and development, he said. "Besides the government's policies, this vote of confidence is also about the person of the prime minister."

The coalition of Gyurcsany's Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats holds a majority of seats in the 386-member parliament. The coalition has already voiced its support for Gyurcsany, and the leader is expected to win a confidence vote.

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If he loses the vote, Gyurcsany and his government would be constitutionally required to resign. In that case, the president would nominate a new candidate for prime minister, who would then need approval from lawmakers to take office.

Protests seeking Gyurcsany's ouster have been held around the country since Sept. 17, when the prime minister could be heard admitting on a leaked recording that the government had lied repeatedly about the economy to win April's parliamentary elections.

At least 20,000 people gathered for several days at Kossuth Square outside parliament calling for Gyurcsany's resignation.

Opposition leader Viktor Orban of the Fidesz party said the confidence vote was a "deceitful and worthless trick." He called instead for a constructive vote of no-confidence in parliament, in which the coalition would be forced to name a new prime ministerial candidate.

Orban said that unless the coalition took steps to initiate Gyurcsany's dismissal by midday Thursday, Fidesz would hold a rally outside parliament on Friday afternoon.

Fidesz — which has not directly taken part in the protests — has shown the power to bring out its supporters in the past, having at times drawn hundreds of thousands of people to its electoral rallies.

Shortly after the polls closed Sunday evening, President Laszlo Solyom accused Gyurcsany of undermining trust in democracy and appeared to suggest parliament should replace him.

The elections were seen as a chance for voters to judge the government after the leaked tape surfaced. Preliminary results released by the election office, with some nearly all the votes counted, showed Fidesz winning the mayorships in 15 of Hungary's 23 largest cities, as well majorities in 18 of 19 county councils.

The Socialists retained power in most of Budapest's 23 districts and Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky — supported by the two-party governing coalition — won his fifth consecutive term since the 1990 return to democracy.

Gyurcsany's coalition has stood by him despite the huge gains made by the center-right opposition. Government leaders said the setback was merely a reflection of the unpopularity of austerity measures, and described Gyurcsany as the only man able to see them through.

"The current government coalition ... stands by the policy of reforms and by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany," Socialist Party Chairman Istvan Hiller said on state television.

Free Democrat leader Gabor Kuncze also expressed support, but acknowledged that implementing the reform program would be difficult, especially in the current political climate.