The Dutch right-wing Liberal party has begun informal coalition talks after their narrow victory in the country’s general election. Mark Rutte is now on course to be prime minister.
But his plans to introduce tough austerity measures to tackle a balloning budget deficit will probably mean long, drawn out bargaining before a government can be formed.
Labour, led by former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, could conceivably join the Liberals in a coalition, but as the second-biggest election winner it is likely to want concessions.
With nearly all the votes counted, Labour’s one less seat may give the party more power to bring in slower and fewer cuts it wants to tackle the deficit.
But the big winners on the night were the anti-Islamic and anti-immigration Freedom Party.
Geert Wilders saw his party clock up the biggest electoral gains, up from nine to 24 seats, meaning he could now play a crucial role in coalition talks and future Dutch foreign policy.
He said the result reflected Dutch voters concerns over security, jobs and immigration.
The election dealt a massive blow to the Christian Democratic party of Jan Peter Balkende, the Netherland’s prime minister over the last eight years.
He conceded defeat when his party’s seats were cut from 41 to 21 and subsequently resigned as leader.