Dutch Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte vowed to form a government quickly Thursday after receiving a solid mandate to battle the eurozone's debt crisis at the expense of anti-EU populism.
His ruling VVD won Wednesday's election with 41 seats, just two more than centre-left rivals Labour, while far-right leader Geert Wilders' anti-Islam PVV party suffered a humiliating defeat after changing tack to attack Brussels.
"Tomorrow we get to work and the Netherlands must as quickly as possible have a stable cabinet and then I'll start working with you so that the Netherlands can emerge stronger from the crisis," Rutte told a victory party in The Hague late Wednesday.
"We will not betray your trust," Rutte said after his party won the most seats ever, an upset to a European trend that has seen governments toppled around the continent as the debt-crisis bites ever deeper.
The victory by Rutte's VVD, closely followed by rising Labour star Diederik Samsom's PvdA, means that the new coalition will be moderate and marks a victory for parties committed to debt-busting austerity.
The vote reflected the Netherlands' commitment to its enduring relationship with Europe and will keep the eurozone's fifth largest economy closely allied with economic powerhouse Germany.
"This is an exceptionally good victory because he (Rutte) is in charge of the biggest party in power," Andre Krouwel, political analyst at Amsterdam Free University, said Thursday.
"There are many European countries where leaders have lost elections in the middle of this crisis," he said on state broadcaster NOS.
If the two main parties agree an alliance, the VVD and Labour would have 80 seats, a majority in the 150-seat parliament but the coalition would likely want more partners.
Final results will be announced by the Electoral Commission later Thursday, with coalition-building talks to begin immediately. But it will take weeks if not months for a new government to be agreed.
Nevertheless, VVD leaders have not yet publicly extended a coalition-building hand to the PvdA, and the VVD mayor of The Hague Jozias van Aartsen insisted it would be difficult for the parties to work together.
"There are two strong winners that are really very different from each other," the former foreign minister told state-owned Radio 1 on Thursday.
Fiscally prudent Rutte's government has been allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Samsom's calls for stimulus echo those of France's Socialist President Francois Hollande.
Both parties had lashed out at the EU status quo during campaigning, but the Dutch export-based economy could not afford to call into question membership in the bloc, where it sends 75 percent of its exports.
Samsom, a former Greenpeace activist and nuclear physicist, has enjoyed a stellar rise thanks to his success in televised debates, with opinion polls just a month ago predicting his party would win just 15 seats.
The more hard-left Socialist Party won 15 seats, as did Wilders' PVV, a sharp drop from its previous tally of 24, results said with around 98 percent of votes counted.
Samsom received a raucous welcome at Amsterdam's Paradiso theatre where he was greeted by hundreds of his supporters.
"The Netherlands needs a stable government as soon as possible," Samsom said. "We would like to participate in that government, as long as tonight's results can be faithfully represented in the new cabinet's programme.
Wilders, who brought down the last government in April after refusing to approve an austerity-driven budget, is not expected to play any role in this coalition.
"I'd rather have stood in front of you with good news," a visibly shaken Wilders told his party's gathering in The Hague, wiping a solitary tear from his eye. "In Brussels they are having a party... That's a pity."
The PVV vowed to pull out of the euro and the EU itself if they came to power. But many Dutch voters and the political mainstream decided that Wilders was simply unreliable.
Many Dutch citizens are fed up with bailing out indebted eurozone members while swallowing their own budget cuts, but voters had nevertheless been expected to shun anti-EU parties for the mainstream.