Coalition tipped after Dutch polls

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte looks likely to form a coalition between his Conservatives and the Labour party after a major election victory seen as confirmation of voters' support for the European Union.

In a boost for EU unity in fighting the continent's debt crisis, the two mainstream pro-EU parties defeated the Socialist party and Eurosceptic populist Geert Wilders, whose party suffered big losses.

With 98% of votes counted, Mr Rutte's VVD party surged to 41 seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament and could theoretically form a two-party coalition with the centre-left Labour party of Diederik Samsom, which pushed up its tally of seats to 39.

An elated Mr Rutte said: "People, this is a strong boost."

Speaking to cheering supporters at a beachside hotel in The Hague, he said: "Tonight let's enjoy it, and tomorrow we have get to work to make sure a stable cabinet is formed as soon as possible. Then I'm going to get to work with you to help the Netherlands emerge from this crisis."

Europe's debt problems have left the Dutch economy in the doldrums. The result sets the stage for the VVD and Labour - both pro-Europe parties - to forge a two-party ruling coalition with Mr Rutte returning for a second term as prime minister.

Formal coalition talks cannot start until official results are verified on Monday and the new parliament is seated, next week at the earliest. Mr Rutte said he would not comment on possible coalitions for the time being.

Both major parties booked gains greater than polls before yesterday's election had predicted, as voters strayed from smaller parties to support the two frontrunners.

Mr Samsom, who shot to prominence in the past month due to strong performances in televised debates, was jubilant. He told supporters in Amsterdam that Labour was willing to help form a government, "as long as the result from tonight is translated into the plans of a new cabinet".

But Mr Rutte also called the vote an endorsement of his government's right-wing policies and austerity platform, while Mr Samsom ran on a platform of change. "This is a strong boost for the agenda that we have laid out for the Netherlands, to go on with our policy in this splendid country," Mr Rutte said.