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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hungarian Opposition to Form Government

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Hungary's center-left opposition secured a narrow victory in Sunday's general election, vowing to guide the former communist country along a sure path to European Union membership.

In a close-run election, the Socialist/Free Democrat alliance won 198 seats in Hungary's 386-seat parliament, toppling the center-right bloc led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Orban's Fidesz/Democratic Forum alliance, rallying strongly from a first round defeat two weeks ago, won 188 seats, after a high voter turnout of 71 percent in Sunday's runoff vote.

"Let us congratulate the winners, let us bow our heads to the will of the voters," Orban told thousands of supporters at Budapest's Millennium Park.

Orban, a 38-year-old former anti-Communist student activist, gambled all with a dramatic lurch to the nationalist right in a bid to shore up support through a divisive and bitter campaign.

At Socialist Party headquarters in Pest's Republic Square, the Socialist campaign leader who is expected to be the next prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, told jubilant supporters: "We won."

"The main issue has been decided, and that's a change of government. This high turnout, given the close contest, gives a big legitimacy to our new government," the 59-year-old former banker said, vowing to reunite the country.

"I am determined to be prime minister of 10 million ... There are 10 million important people in Hungary, regardless of who they voted for," Medgyessy told supporters gathered in the square, the scene of bloody clashes in Hungary's failed 1956 anti-Soviet revolt.

The Socialists, formed from the reformist wing of the disintegrating ruling Communists in 1989, have promised market-friendly economic policies, scrapping capital gains tax and selling state assets.

Ruling in coalition with the Free Democrats in 1994-98, the Socialists introduced an austerity package that brought Hungary's economy back on track for growth.

The new government must also reform ailing healthcare and pension systems and tighten fiscal policy, which has come in for criticism by the European Commission.

The Socialists and Free Democrats have pledged to mend ties with central European governments in Prague, Bratislava and Bucharest bemused and irritated by Orban's nationalist rhetoric.

Laszlo Kovacs, widely expected to be the country's new foreign minister, hopes now to lead Hungary into the EU.

Kovacs, 62, was instrumental in getting this small central European nation into the NATO military alliance the last time the Socialists were in power. Hungary joined in 1999 shortly after Orban took office.

The country's president, Ferenc Madl, appealed for calm and an end to the social divisions that surfaced during the campaign.

"We no longer need parties to try to defeat each other. What we need now is for parties to strive for national unity."