Divide among Hungary's leftist opposition widens

BUDAPEST Sat Aug 24, 2013 1:52pm EDT

Former Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai speaks during a recent Reuters interview in Budapest, February 28, 2013. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Former Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai speaks during a recent Reuters interview in Budapest, February 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A divide within Hungary's leftist opposition has deepened after leaders of its two biggest parties clashed over who would challenge Prime Minister Viktor Orban in next year's election.

Orban's conservative party Fidesz is leading in opinion polls but about half of Hungarian voters are undecided and the economy is barely growing after a recession last year.

Late on Friday, talks between the Socialist Party and former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai's breakaway leftist party Egyutt 2014 stalled after their leaders proposed different methods for choosing a joint leftist candidate for the premiership.

Senior Egyutt 2014 figure Viktor Szigetvari said on Saturday he expected the negotiations with the Socialists to continue.

"There is no need for a suspension or break-up of talks ... and there is no intention of that on our side," Szigetvari wrote in a reply to questions from Reuters.

Attila Mesterhazy, chairman of the Socialist Party which evolved from the communists who ruled Hungary from 1956 to 1989, is competing for the leadership against Bajnai, who from 2009 to 2010 was part of a government that introduced painful spending cuts to put the economy back on a sustainable path.

On Friday, in an attempt to resolve the deadlock, Bajnai proposed the two men conduct brief campaigns followed by a televised debate. Hungary's main polling institutes would then ask voters who was the better candidate.

He said the Socialists should present candidates in 71 of Hungary's 106 parliamentary constituencies and his own party would field 35.

Mesterhazy called Bajnai's proposal an unexpected ultimatum and responded with a proposal for the two parties to hold primaries in all the constituencies and to decide who would stand for the premiership.

Szigetvari said any other method than an opinion poll would be too expensive, time-consuming and potentially damaging to the opposition, but they would study the Socialist proposal.

The tension has dimmed prospects for a strong alliance that can unseat Orban, said Peter Kreko, political analyst at think tank Political Capital.

"Anti-government voters can consider this opposition totally incompetent. How can these people govern the country if they are unable to make any compromise on the nomination?", he said.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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