Viktor Orban, Hungary's right-wing, antimigrant prime minister, has declared a "historic" victory for his ruling Fidesz party in national elections that handed him his third consecutive term atop the country’s government.
"We have won," Orban told cheering supporters late on April 8 after preliminary results were released. "Hungary has won a great victory."
"Dear friends, there's a big battle behind us, we secured a historic victory -- we got a chance, we created a chance for us to defend Hungary," he added.
With 98.5 percent of the ballots counted, Fidesz had taken 48.8 percent of the vote, far ahead of the radical nationalist Jobbik party, which had 20 percent.
Under Hungary’s electoral system, which favors larger parties, Fidesz and its small ally, the Christian Democrats, appeared to be closing in on a two-thirds majority in parliament with 133 of the 199 seats up for election.
A two-thirds majority in parliament would give Orban and Fidesz widespread powers.
Opposition parties expressed concerns that such an outcome would allow Orban to push through constitutional changes, continue a crackdown on civic groups, and further strengthen his influence over the state power structure.
Jobbik is forecast to win 26 seats. Party leader Gabor Vona announced his resignation following the defeat.
"Jobbik's goal, to win the elections and force a change in government, was not achieved," Vona told reporters. "Fidesz won. It won again."
A Socialist-led coalition was taking 12.2 percent of the vote, with 20 seats, while smaller leftist parties DK and LMP would likely have nine and eight seats, respectively.
Socialist Party President Gyula Molnar also said he was resigning after the election setback.
Turnout was higher than expected, at 69.3 percent, and many Orban critics had hoped that would help the opposition parties.
However, Orban is headed for a third consecutive term, and fourth overall, as prime minister.
"The high voter turnout puts every doubt into brackets," he told supporters.
The results come close to matching preelection polls, which had put Fidesz at about 50 percent of the vote.
European Union leaders were closely watching the results amid concerns that a big victory for Fidesz could boost similar right-wing nationalists in other Central European countries, particularly Poland and Austria, and increase concerns about EU cohesion.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski, who is Warsaw's envoy to the EU, said the Hungarian vote result was "a confirmation of Central Europe's emancipation policy."
"Emancipation not directed at fighting anybody but at making Central Europe visible as a very constructive European and European Union partner," Szymanski said.
'For Hungary's Future'
Some 8.3 million residents in Hungary were eligible to vote. They cast two ballots -- one for a candidate in their district and one for a party list, with 199 parliamentary seats up for election. Hungarians outside the country voting by mail choose only party lists.
After casting his ballot in a Budapest suburb, the 54-year-old Orban said the vote was about "Hungary's future," and reiterated he would stand up for Hungary's interests.
"We love our country and we are fighting for our country," he said.
Jobbik's Vona ,casting his vote in the northeastern town of Gyongyos, said that the election results would "determine the fate of Hungary not just for four years but...for two generations."
Orban, who also served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002, campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform and called the election a chance for Hungarians to reclaim their country.
Orban began his political career as an anticommunist liberal activist in the late 1980s, but he has been accused by critics of abandoning Hungary's democratic path for an increasingly authoritarian direction.
Over the past eight years, his government has expanded control over the media and, through allies in the business sector, gained influence over the banking, energy, construction, and tourism sectors.
Some critics also accuse Orban of being too accommodating to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Orban has repeatedly criticized U.S.-Hungarian billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom he accuses of meddling in Hungarian politics and leading the liberal opposition.
Jobbik was formerly one of Europe's most far-right, anti-Semitic, and anti-EU parties, but it has attempted to rebrand itself as a more centrist entity.