BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Viktor Orban declared a sweeping victory for his center-right Fidesz party Sunday and told supporters that leading Hungary as prime minister would be the biggest task of his life.
All the opinion polls had pointed to a Fidesz victory, and the weight of expectation to act quickly to put Hungary back on a track of sustainable growth after near financial collapse will be immense, from Hungarians and investors alike.
Fidesz pushed the ruling Socialists to a distant second, ahead of the far-right Jobbik party, but it was still not immediately clear whether Fidesz would win the two thirds majority in parliament it needs push through vital reforms.
A second round of voting will be held on April 25 when the remaining 121 seats will be decided.
Economists say Orban, 46, will need to implement deep reforms to reduce the local government sector and make the health care and education systems more efficient.
"On this splendid day Hungarians have expressed that Hungary is united, Hungary has power, is able to do great things, it wants, jobs, order and safety, Hungarians have shown to the world that it's again good to be Hungarian," he told 2,000 cheering supporters in central Budapest.
He said Hungarians had "defeated hopelessness," adding: "I feel it with all my nerves and know it deep in my heart that I face the biggest task of my life. I will need all the Hungarian people to solve that."
Fidesz, which last ruled between 1998 and 2002, campaigned on cutting taxes, creating jobs and supporting local businesses to boost to Hungary's ailing economy.
"We have been waiting for this for eight years; no, for 22 years, since Fidesz was founded," Magdolna Karbacz, 44, an entrepreneur from the western city of Szekesfehervar said at Fidesz headquarters in downtown Budapest.
The Socialist government led by technocrat Gordon Bajnai since April 2009 made painful budget cuts to rein in the deficit under a deal led by the International Monetary Fund, which provided emergency financing for Hungary amid a crisis in 2008.
The country's economy contracted by 6.3 percent last year, while unemployment is running at 11.4 percent -- the highest since 1994 -- which has further increased public discontent.
Fidesz secured 206 out of 386 parliamentary seats, the National Election Committee said on its website based on numbers on individual constituencies and party list votes. The Socialists gained 28 seats, ahead of the far-right Jobbik party which had 26 seats in the first round.
Green liberal LMP is the fourth party which passed the threshold to get into parliament, and secured 5 seats.
Analysts said ahead of the results that if Fidesz won 53-55 percent of party list votes and 120-130 seats in individual constituencies in the first round, it stands a strong chance of securing two-thirds of the seats.
"The Socialists and Jobbik are below 20 percent. This means that Fidesz has a good chance to garner two-thirds of parliament seats even if it will lose some seats in the second round," said Attila Juhasz, analyst at Political Capital after the results.
Orban was the prime minister heading the last Fidesz government and many supporters hope his government will restore Hungary's national pride.
"Fundamentally, this country needs a renewal in its soul and in its morals. This elections can help achieving that if the (new) leaders will represent that," said Peter Buki, 37.
Analysts said Fidesz' strong victory was expected to have a neutral or slightly positive impact on financial markets and the forint Monday as the election result had been expected.
"I expect moderate strengthening of the forint and a drop in government bond yields tomorrow ... Global developments like Greek news and U.S. economic figures are also supportive," said analyst Gergely Suppan of Takarekbank.
Additional reporting by Sandor Peto and Marton Dunai; Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams