ROUNDUP: Search for prime minister continues in Hungary

Search for prime minister continues in Hungary Budapest  - Hungary was awash on Tuesday with speculation over who will fill Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany's shoes if, as promised, he departs on April 14.

Gyurcsany announced on Saturday that he would step down to allow a new leader with broader popular and political support to tackle Hungary's ever deeper financial crisis.

His governing Socialist party continued talks with its former coalition partner, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats, and also met the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum.

The Socialists, a few seats short of a parliamentary majority, will need the backing of at least the first of these small opposition parties for Gyurcsany's gambit to succeed.

Both have a vested interest in avoiding early general elections, as opinion polls suggest neither would garner the 5 per cent of the national vote needed to enter Hungary's parliament.

The Free Democrats - champions of major reform in sensitive areas such as healthcare and pensions - are the most unpopular mainstream party in Hungary.

Democratic Forum head Ibolya David said after talks that her party remained in opposition to the government, and would not form a coalition.

However, it will not oppose Gyurcsany's strategy to find a replacement prime minister without calling a general election.

"The Democratic Forum will not oppose the constructive vote of no confidence initiative, because the party feels it is important that Ferenc Gyurcsany leave office," David said.

The Democratic Forum joined the Free Democrats in ruling out a coalition with the Socialists.

Gyurcsany said on Saturday that a candidate for his replacement should be agreed by April 5. The Free Democrats insist that the right man must be found this week.

Free Democrat leader Gabor Fodor said on Tuesday that his party would settle for an early general election if it cannot agree with the Socialists on a leader for an interim crisis government.

The most talked about candidate on Tuesday was Gyorgy Suranyi, twice governor of Hungary's central bank in the 1990s now Central and Eastern European regional head for the Italian banking group Intesa Sanpaolo.

The 55-year-old politician-turned-businessman has met the leadership of all Hungary's parliamentary parties this week.

Opposition leader Viktor Orban said he would not support Suranyi as premier after meeting him on Tuesday.

Indeed, it looks unlikely that any candidate acceptable to the Socialists would meet with Orban's centre-right Fidesz party's approval.

Fidesz will not support any government "brought about by inter-party back door dealing and pact making, whether Suranyi or anyone else," said spokesman Peter Szijjarto after the meeting.

Fidesz is Hungary's only large opposition party, and has ruled out cooperating with the government, instead repeating a call for an early general election.

Democratic Forum head David said she has "a lot of professional respect" for Suranyi, but refused to comment on his potential candidacy.

The Hungarian state news agency MTI reported that Suranyi let it be known that he would only accept the post of premier under certain conditions, including a guarantee that the new cabinet would not be subject to party political attacks.

Meanwhile, current central bank chief Janos Veres came out top in a survey of and analysts and managers conducted by the financial news website Portfolio. hu, but he has already said he would not accept the job.

Suranyi came second, followed by former finance minister Lajos Bokros. The governing Hungarian Socialist Party has ruled Bokros out.

His draconian "Bokros Package" of austerity measure pulled Hungary out of a previous economic hole in the mid-90s, but it led to a complete loss of support in the Socialist party and election defeat.

Assuming that the Socialists succeed in setting one up, Hungary's new crisis government will have roughly one year to do what it can with one of the EU's direst economies.

Fidesz has held a commanding lead in opinion polls since summer 2006 and few Hungarians, from either side of the country's deep political divide, doubt that it will form their next government in spring 2010. (dpa)

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