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Dutch vote for change — to the right

Vote represents blow to The Netherlands' contributions in Afghanistan.

Dutch election 2010
Elkes Schouten wears traditional Dutch clothing as she casts her vote in Marken in the Dutch election held on June 9, 2010. Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy won the most seats. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen/United Photos/Reuters)

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands — Dutch electors voted overwhelmingly for change Wednesday.

They booted out Jan-Peter Balkenende, their prime minister of nine years, handing victory to a right-of-center, pro-business party for the first time in the country's history and gave a huge boost to an anti-Islam firebrand who wants to close mosques and ban the Koran.

"This is a glorious day for the whole Netherlands ... . More security, less crime, less immigration and less Islam is what the Netherlands has voted for," proclaimed Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, who is facing prosecution under hate-speech laws.

However, the right's success was matched by a solid vote for the Labor Party led by Job Cohen, the Jewish former mayor of Amsterdam who built his reputation on reaching out to the city's large Muslim community. Two other left-wing parties, the Greens and the liberal D-66 party also did well.

Wilders' party more than doubled its score, rising to become the third party in parliament with 24 of the 150 seats. With 10 parties now engaging in what are expected to be lengthy coalition talks, Wilders may yet become a minister in the Dutch government.

Leading the coalition talks is Mark Rutte, leader of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, which became the biggest party in the Netherlands for the first time since it was founded after World War II. However, its victory was the narrowest in Dutch history.

The VVD won 31 seats compared to 30 for the Labor Party in second place. The most likely scenario is that those two parties will form a broad governing coalition that excludes Wilders, but Labor and the VVD have deep differences over the economy and immigration, which might open the way for the Freedom Party.

"We don't rule out any coalition," Rutte said when asked if he'd bring Wilders into government.

Rutte, a youthful former Unilever executive, is most likely to become prime minister. His party traditionally presents itself as economically conservative but socially liberal. It is calling for drastic cuts in public spending in order to control a budget deficit of 6.6 percent — low by the standards of many European countries, but the Netherlands' highest in 15 years.

The VVD has also moved toward a tougher line on immigration, taking on some of the Freedom Party's ideas on limiting the entry of newcomers into the country.