Dutch parties prepare for talks after PM Mark Rutte's VVD wins election
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's right-wing VVD party has easily won national elections, defying polls that suggested a close race with anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders.
Political parties were on Thursday preparing to start what is likely be a long process of coalition talks.
With most votes counted for the 150-seat legislature, Mr Rutte's VVD had 33 seats, eight fewer than in 2012.
The far-right populist Party for Freedom of Mr 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," Mr Rutte told NPO Radio 1.
Mr 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!" Mr Wilders tweeted.
It failed to hide his disappointment though that he fell short of becoming number one in Wednesday's vote.
The Christian Democrats and centrist D66 parties, probable future coalition partners for Mr Rutte, won 19 seats each.
Party leaders were expected to meet on Thursday to discuss first steps in the coalition formation process.
Mr 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."