Hungary's Socialist leader quits after crushing poll defeats

BUDAPEST Thu May 29, 2014 9:21am EDT

Attila Mesterhazy, chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party and leftist challenger of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Budapest March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Attila Mesterhazy, chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party and leftist challenger of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Budapest March 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Socialist party Chairman Attila Mesterhazy resigned on Thursday, paying the price for crushing election defeats in a move likely to reinforce Prime Minister Viktor Orban's already strong hold on power.

The Party, which evolved from the communists who ruled Hungary from 1956 until 1989 and was itself in power from 2002 to 2010, slipped to third behind the far-right Jobbik party in Sunday's European parliament elections.

In last month's national vote, the fractured leftist alliance it led suffered a heavy defeat behind Orban's Fidesz party, which was elected to a second term in government with two-thirds of parliamentary seats.

"As chairman of the Socialist Party, I take full responsibility for these fiascos," Mesterhazy said in a statement posted on the party's website.

He also resigned as leader of the parliamentary group and will not run for the post of party chairman again.

A party spokeswoman said the leadership will meet on Saturday and could decide to convene an extraordinary congress to elect a new chairman.

Mesterhazy's resignation brings further uncertainty to the party which has seen its support eroded also from within the left, by the Democratic Coalition (DK) led by former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and Egyutt 2014, led by another former prime minister, Gordon Bajnai.

A quarter of a century after the fall of communism, the Socialists, who were ousted by Orban in 2010, are in a downward spiral that is going to be difficult to halt, said Peter Kreko, director of think tank Political Capital.

Kreko said the Socialists could easily be challenged by the DK party, with Gyurcsany emerging as a potential leader of the left again.

"At the same time, Viktor Orban will not have sleepless nights as he can rule without a strong opposition," he said.

Orban has said his government had saved Hungary from a Greek-style collapse after inheriting an economy weakened by economic mismanagement under successive Socialist governments.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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