THE HAGUE — The Liberals were one seat ahead of Labour with 88 percent of the vote counted early Thursday after cliff-hanger general elections in the Netherlands, with the far-right Party for Freedom in third place.
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 had been tied for hours at 31 seats each in the 150-seat parliament after Wednesday's polls.
Geert 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 24, and could hope to enter a coalition government.
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 20 seats to end at 21, and was the big loser in the election.
The Liberals, who had 21 seats in the outgoing parliament, had topped opinion polls for several weeks.
Labour lost two seats compared with the previous elections in 2006.
Balkenende, who had headed a centre-left coalition since 2007, acknowledged defeat by resigning both his party's leadership and his seat in parliament.
With none of the competing 18 parties able to rule alone, the party that arrives on top will lead coalition negotiations.
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