Liberals and Social Democrats have carried the Dutch parliamentary elections by a wide margin. Voters made it clear that they've abandoned right-wing politician Geert Wilders for more Europe-friendly leaders.
After hours of sitting on the edge of their seats, supporters of the Dutch center-right Liberal party - the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) - had reason to celebrate when the election results were announced. The VVD had won, with 41 seats in parliament.
"The VVD has never played a more important role in history than it did tonight. This endorsement is tremendous for me and my platform," said Prime Minister Mark Rutte shortly before midnight, as he joined his party's celebrations.
Austerity measures likely to continue
Rutte needed more than 10 minutes to push through the excited crowd before he finally reached the stage. And when he spoke, enthusiastic cries interrupted his speech again and again. It was the first time that the VVD had come out as the strongest party in two consecutive elections.
For the country's European neighbors, the victory means that the country will most likely continue its austerity policy and will remain an ally of the German government on the European stage.
"Voters have clearly decided in favor of budgetary discipline and adherence to the EU's rule of keeping the increase in the deficit below 3 percent," said Foreign Minister Uriel Rosenthal.
The Social Democrats, who were runners-up in the poll with 39 seats and are expected to join any government coalition, also want to see greater public investment and more socially sensitive policies in addition to the austerity measures, but their leader, Diederik Samsom, also made clear during the election campaign that he stood for EU membership and helping the highly-indebted eurozone countries. So the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, need not expect much resistance to her policies from the Netherlands in the future.
Right-wing Wilders loses out, but won't give up
Right-wing populist Geert Wilders got a slap in the face from voters. His right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) lost nine seats. Clearly, Wilders' calls for an exit from the European Union did not go over well with voters.
All the democratic parties welcomed the PVV's fall. Wilders' party was responsible for the early elections in the first place because it refused to support the VVD minority government in backing the rescue fund for Greece.
"Voters have shown that running away isn't the right thing to do," said Rosenthal.
Geert Wilders admitted defeat, but asked his supporters to continue supporting his cause.
"In the coming years, people will realize that the euro is a mistake. The battle isn't yet lost. I'm fighting to protect the people from Europe," said Wilders.
A two-party coalition unlikely
Socialist Party (SP) candidate, Emile Roemer, also did much worse than expected in the election. A few weeks ago, Roemer still had hopes of becoming prime minister. His party had been ahead in the polls since May, occasionally gaining up to 38 seats, but then his popularity began to wane.
According to political scientist Andre Krouwel of the Free University of Amsterdam, who's been studying Dutch political sentiment for years, Roemer did badly in the television debates.
"People liked Roemer's ideas, but they didn't think he was capable of being prime minister," said Krouwel. "They don't see him at meetings in Brussels, standing at the side of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande."
"Roemer doesn't have the experience. He's a local politician. The euro crisis is one size too big for him," he said.
The party won only 15 seats, which makes it joint third along with Wilders' PVV. Its members have not given up hope of working with the new government.
"I'm proud of our result and we hope that we'll be sitting at the coalition table with everyone else," said SP Member of Parliament Renske Leijten.
Party leaders met in The Hague on Thursday morning at the invitation of the president of the Dutch parliament in order to discuss possible coalitions.
The VVD and Social Democrats' have a wide enough margin to govern with only a two-party coalition, but both parties' leaders ruled out that possibility before the election. The two would rather bring in other smaller parties into the government. The left-liberal D66, who won 12 seats, and the Christian Democrats, who won 13, have the best chance.
Whatever the outcome, the two strongest parties will have to work together. None of the other combinations - even including more parties - reach the required 75-seat majority in the Dutch parliament. Many politicians have already called on Rutte and Samsom to form a functioning cabinet promptly. They want to avoid a repeat of the situation in 2010, when it took four months to form a coalition.