Incomplete results in the first free national vote here since 1945 narrowly favored supporters of Communist Party reformer Imre Pozsgay, who hopes to be elected Hungarian president in elections in January.
But freezing temperatures and snow delayed conclusive results in the referendum, called by pro-Western political parties in an attempt to block Pozsgay by delaying the January elections until multi-party parliamentary elections are held next spring.
With only 23% of the vote counted by early this morning, government officials said that 52% voted against delaying the election, compared to 48% in favor. The officials said the vote results included Budapest, where support for the referendum was felt to be strong.
However, referendum sponsors disputed the results, claiming that their count showed an opposite trend. "Frankly, we are surprised," referendum campaign director Tibor Vidos said. "The data we have is very different, going in the opposite direction."
Official final results are not expected until Tuesday. But the early dispute over the results will likely add to the controversy surrounding the vote, which has turned into an electoral nightmare after originally being billed as the first free national ballot in the Soviet Bloc since 1945.
Ironically, that 1945 vote also took place in Hungary, as one of the conditions of the Yalta agreement between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. In that vote, the Liberal-Democratic Small Holders Party won 57% of the vote, compared to only 17% for the Communist Party. As a result of the lopsided return against the Communist Party, no other free elections have been held in the Soviet Bloc until this year.
Although incomplete, the count released by government election officials showed that at least enough Hungarian voters went to the polls Sunday to make the referendum binding. A major opposition party, the Democratic Forum, had asked voters to boycott the referendum. And many here feared that widespread confusion over the ballot issues would keep people away.
The National Referendum, sponsored by the pro-Western Alliance of Free Democrats, asked voters to decide four issues, including the abolition of a notorious voluntary police unit, the Workers' Militia; a proposal to require the Communist Party, recently renamed the Hungarian Socialist Party, to reveal its financial assets, and another proposal banning Communist organizers from the workplace. According to the preliminary results, all of these issues were approved handily.
However, vote tallies on the fourth and most controversial issue--a proposal to delay the presidential elections until next spring, after the country's first multi-party parliamentary elections in four decades--appeared much closer.
Hungarian Socialist Party leaders opposed the measure. Instead, they want a presidential election to take place as scheduled in January, in hopes that longtime Communist Party member Pozsgay, leader of the party's reform wing, would be elected before the parliamentary elections. To help their cause, they managed to add a confusing "explanation" to the ballot--opposed by the referendum sponsors--that claimed a "no" vote ensured the "direct" election of the President.
Until the vote Sunday, organizers were not even sure that 50% of the 7.8 million registered voters, the minimum number required to make the election valid, would go to the polls. But Hungarian voters overcame a reputation for electoral apathy and flocked to the polling places.
"We had reports from the countryside that many people went to the polls directly from church," said Vidos, leader of the alliance of four parties that sponsored the referendum.