The Christian Democrat party of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende
has suffered a humiliating defeat in the Dutch general election with centre-right Liberal party (VVD)
emerging as the largest party, one seat ahead of the centre-left PVDA Labour party
and the anti-Islam Freedom party
more than doubling its seats in parliament.
With voter turnout at 74%
, the lowest since 1998, the race is now begun to form a new coalition government.
With at least 96% of votes counted, the VVD
has won 31 of 150 seats, while Labour had 30. As the party with the most seats, VVD leader Mark Rutte
could now become the first prime minister from his political camp since World War I.
However, the unexpected big winner was the anti-Islam Freedom Party, the PVV, and its controversial leader Geert Wilders
, which gained so much of the public vote that I has more than doubled its number of seats in the parliament from nine to 24.
Mr Wilders, who was last year refused entry into the UK
under an EU law enabling member states to exclude someone whose presence could threaten public security, has said he wanted to be part of the new coalition government.
During the election campaign, Mr Wilders, pictured left, campaigned to stop what he called the “Islamisation of the Netherlands
” and expressed his desire to ban the Koran, and even suggested a tax on headscarves worn by Muslim women.
The strong showing for the Freedom Party has shown that immigration is still a hot topic in the country, whereas many expected the campaign to be dominated by the economy and the Eurozone crisis, since the Netherlands is the first country in the Eurozone to vote since a crisis erupted earlier this year over the single European currency.
The leader of the VVD party, Mr Rutte has advocated steep budget cuts, a pared-down government and a reduction in benefits for immigrants, and pledged that if his party won he would have a coalition in place by 1st July.
The VVD, which had 21 seats in the outgoing parliament, had topped national opinion polls for several weeks and converted its lead into 10 gained seats, while Labour lost two seats compared with the previous elections in 2006.
Without an outright majority in the 150-seat parliament, the VVD and Labour will now most likely have to forge a coalition with at least two other parties.
In a move not too dissimilar to Gordon Brown after his party lost last months’ UK general election, the outgoing leader Jan Peter Balkenende, pictured left with Mr Brown, resigned his position as party leader and said he was quitting politics - though he also said he would stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new coalition was formed.
Belgian Guy Verhofstadt
, the President of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament whose country also goes to the polls this weekend after the coalition government fell, was delighted with the result and sent his congratulations to both Liberal parties on their outstanding election performance.
"The victory of VVD in topping the polls will bring another Prime Minister to the Liberal table in Europe and marks an historic achievement for the Party,
” he said.
“The 31 seats that Mr Rutte's party gained in the national parliament will provide a strong base for taking the necessary, if tough, measures on the economy to create growth and job opportunities in the longer term.
The election – remarkably the fourth held in the country since 2002
- was called after the centrist coalition government, between the Christian Democrats
and the Labour Party, collapsed earlier this year in February. The government fell when Labour withdrew from the coalition after refusing to extend the Dutch contribution to the NATO force which the Christian Democrats wanted.
While the coalition negotiations can now commence, the final results will not be declared until 15th June,
when all overseas votes have been counted.
But one thing is certain, there will be challenges ahead: never has the largest party had as few as 31 seats in the 150-strong parliament…