THE HAGUE, Netherlands â€” Dutch political parties were preparing Thursday to start what will likely be a long process of coalition talks after Prime Minister Mark Rutte's right-wing VVD easily won national elections, defying polls that suggested a close race with anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders.
With most votes counted for the 150-seat legislature, Rutte's VVD had 33 seats, eight fewer than in 2012. The far-right populist Party for Freedom of Wilders was second with 20 seats, five more than the last time but still a stinging setback after polls in recent months had suggested his party could become the largest in Dutch politics.
"We lost eight seats, but we're very happy to be the biggest party again," Rutte told NPO Radio 1.
Wilders, meanwhile, had lost none of his trademark defiance. "We were the 3rd party in the Netherlands. We are now the 2nd party in the Netherlands. And next time we'll be the No. 1!" Wilders tweeted. It failed to hide his disappointment though that he fell short of becoming No. 1 in Wednesday's vote.
The Christian Democrats and centrist D66 parties â€” likely future coalition partners for Rutte â€” won 19 seats each. Party leaders were expected to meet early afternoon to discuss first steps in the coalition formation process.
Rutte warned that it could take a while. "We have had a tough campaign, with reproaches back and forth," he said. "We need time for everybody to get back into the mood for co-operation, and that doesn't happen in a few hours."
Mike Corder, The Associated Press