Partial results point to deadlock in Dutch election
The Netherlands' main liberal and left-wing parties remained deadlocked after a general election that left anti-immigrant leader Geert Wilders the big winner, a partial count showed Thursday.
The Liberal party (VVD) led by Mark Rutte, which had campaigned on the need for deep spending cuts, and the Labour party (PvdA) of Job Cohen were tied at 31 seats each in the 150-seat parliament.
Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV), which demands an end to immigration from Muslim countries and a ban on new mosques, took its number of lawmakers from nine in the last parliament to 23, said partial results issued by Dutch news agency ANP shortly before 2300 GMT with 21 percent of the vote counted.
The far-right leader with his distinctive shock of fair hair called the result of Wednesday's elections "magnificent".
"The impossible has happened," he told a televised party gathering. "We are the biggest winner today. The Netherlands chose for more security, less crime, less immigration and less Islam."
Pushed into fourth place was the Christian Democratic Action party of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The CDA, which has been in almost all Dutch governments since World War II, lost 19 seats to end at 22, according to the Synovate poll.
Balkenende acknowledged defeat by resigning both his party's leadership and his seat in parliament.
"I have informed the party chairman that I will lay down my party membership with immediate effect," said Balkenende, 54, adding that he was taking "political responsibility" for the state of affairs.
The result left the VVD, which had 21 seats in the previous parliament, and the PvdA, which lost two seats, facing prolonged, tense coalition negotiations to see who will form the next government.
"This is a tense evening," said Cohen. "We don't know the final results yet."
The election was the first in a eurozone country since the Greek financial crisis erupted and has been closely watched to see how the public reacts to Europe's wave of austerity.
The Liberals had led pre-election polls with their promise to cut public spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years and by 20 billion euros a year from 2015. But their support appeared to drain away in the final 48 hours of lobbying.
Rutte had also promised to eradicate the public deficit which was 5.3 percent of GDP last year, shrink the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servant pay rises while raising the retirement age by two years to 67.
Labour had promised more "careful" savings, the retention of social benefits and higher taxes for the rich.
Rutte has set a target date of July 1 for the establishment of a new government. "We do not exclude any party," he said in a debate Tuesday night when asked about a possible coalition with the far right.
He was previously reported as saying that a coalition with Labour was unlikely. Cohen has ruled out cooperation with the PVV.
The maverick Wilders has earned notoriety around the world with his campaign to ban the Koran in a bid to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands".
Wilders, who has called Islam a fascist religion and likens the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf", is known abroad for his 17-minute commentary, "Fitna", which was termed "offensively anti-Islamic" by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He goes on trial in the Netherlands in October on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. He was barred from entering Britain in 2009 to stop him spreading "hatred and violent messages."
Of the other parties, the Socialist Party got 15 seats, down from 25, the Greens got 10 seats (up from seven), the centrist D66 also 10 (up from 3) and the Christian Union five, one down.
Voters marked their ballots with red pencils at some 10,000 polling stations in an election called after the government collapsed in February in a spat over military aid to Afghanistan.
The voter turnout was put at 74 percent, the lowest since 1998.
Official results will be released next Tuesday.
© 2010 AFP