Netherlands vote: Dutch PM claims victory
The Hague, Netherlands: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Wednesday claimed victory for his conservative VVD party in elections in which the voters favoured pro-Europe parties.
The VVD is slated to acquire 41 seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament, whereas Labor is set to garner 39 seats.
Early on Thursday, Rutte said his chief rival, Labor leader Diederik Samsom, had called him to congratulate him on his win.
Formal coalition talks can't start until official results are verified on Monday and the new parliament is seated, next week at the earliest. Rutte said he would not comment on possible coalitions for the time being.
Both top parties booked gains as voters strayed from smaller parties to support them.
Labour leader Samsom, who shot to prominence in the past month due to strong performances in televised debates, was jubilant.
He told supporters in Amsterdam that Labour was willing to help form a government "as long as the result from tonight is translated into the plans of a new Cabinet".
But Rutte also called the vote an endorsement of his previous government's right-wing policies and austerity platform.
"This is a strong boost for the agenda that we have laid out for the Netherlands, to go on with our policy in this splendid country," Rutte said.
The election was cast as a virtual referendum on Europe amid the continent's crippling debt crisis, but the result was a stark rejection of the most radical critic of the EU, anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party was forecast to lose eight seats, dropping to 16.
Wilders' calls to ditch the euro may have been too radical for voters, or he may have lost support for walking out of talks with Rutte in April to hammer out an austerity package to rein in the Dutch budget deficit.
"The voter has spoken," an emotional Wilders told supporters. The Socialist Party, which briefly led in polls on its anti-austerity platform, wound up unchanged at 15 seats.
Dutch voters signalled at least an acceptance of the importance of a healthy Europe: in national polls, voters said that no election issue was nearly as important as the state of the Dutch economy and the effect Europe's sovereign debt crisis is having on it.
For the Dutch, the elections are something of a return to normality after a decade of upheaval.
With Agency Inputs