BUDAPEST (AFP) - Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban looked to have won a clear victory in elections on Sunday, with exit polls giving his Fidesz party a wide lead over the opposition.
Fidesz won 48 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the left-wing opposition alliance on 27 per cent, with the far-right Jobbik winning 18 per cent, the exit polls showed.
It was unclear, however, whether this would be enough for the right-wing Mr Orban, 50, to retain his two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Official results were due later Sunday.
Mr Orban has made the most of the super-majority he won in 2010, with a legislative onslaught shaking up the media, the judiciary and the central bank.
Critics, including Brussels and Washington, have expressed concerns about vital checks and balances on key democratic institutions in the EU member state.
The fate of the media has sparked particular alarm, with state outlets merged into one tame entity and independent publications starved of advertising. All are under the close eye of a new watchdog run by Orban lieutenants.
"The Internet is where you go to find out what is really happening in Hungary," Mr Aranka Szavuly, a freelance journalist fired from state media in 2011, told AFP.
Many of these reforms have been written into a new Constitution, meaning that even if the opposition were to win, it would need a two-thirds majority to change them.
Mr Orban first rose to prominence as a long-haired student dissident, calling in a 1989 speech for Soviet troops to leave the country and for free and fair elections.
Since then he has turned the Fidesz movement that he formed with like-minded young liberals into a potent political force.
He was first elected prime minister aged just 35 in 1998, but lost to the Socialists four years later before returning to power in 2010.
Mr Orban says his changes are aimed at turning Hungary into a "race car" after eight years of economic and political Socialist mismanagement before 2010 had reduced it to an "old banger".
But despite some rosy economic data, Mr Orban's nationalist rhetoric and unorthodox economic policies have scared away much-needed foreign investors, economists say.
Mr Orban has trumpeted a 20 per cent cut in utility prices but value-added tax (VAT) is the highest in the EU. Poverty rates are high and a harsh "workfare" scheme forces the unemployed to perform menial work in return for benefits.
The fractious opposition alliance struggled to make much headway, however, due in part to a new electoral law, problems getting favourable media coverage and a corruption scandal.
The alliance was only formed in January, and Orban's campaign machine had success depicting its leaders - Mesterhazy and former prime ministers Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsany - as failures.
"The electoral system is unfair ... It's like Fidesz has to run 100m and the opposition 400m hurdles," Bajnai said Sunday before the result.
The anti-Roma and anti-Semitic Jobbik meanwhile is already the third-largest party in Parliament.
One of its MPs called in 2012 for a list of all Jewish lawmakers for "national security" reasons.