The head of Iceland's conservative Independence Party said Sunday he had a mandate from voters to form a coalition, even as leftist rivals claimed the resurgent Progressive Party's leader was a better choice.
"I think it's quite possible that the Independence Party gets the opportunity (to form a government) as the party with the most votes behind itself," Bjarni Benediktsson said during a televised debate on public broadcaster RUV.
"We are ready to lead the government," he added.
The Independence Party won the popular vote with 26.7 percent of voter sympathies.
But that corresponded to the same number of lawmakers -- 19 of 63 -- the centrist-agrarian Progressive Party will have in the Althing parliament, after garnering 24.3 percent of votes.
Iceland's leftist government suffered a heavy defeat in Saturday's general election after imposing tough austerity measures to shore up the economy following the financial meltdown of 2008.
"The president will talk to each leader, that is the custom. A lot of things point to the Progressive Party getting the first opportunity," said Social Democratic Alliance leader Arni Pall Arnason.
The leftist party was the election's biggest loser with just 12.9 percent of votes, or nine seats, less than half as many as in 2009.
"It's evident that the Progressive Party is the winner in this election. I think the president will take that into consideration," said Left Green leader Katrin Jakobsdottir (10.9 percent of the vote, seven seats.)
The Progressive Party leader himself, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, would only say that it was "up to the president to decide" who would form a government.
The centrist-agrarian party was punished by voters in 2009 for its role in the financial deregulation that preceded the collapse of Iceland's banking system.
But support for the party soared after a European court ruling this year appeared to vindicate its refusal to reimburse British and Dutch savers at failed online bank Icesave.
Negotiations to form a government could last several days.
The Independence Party and the Progressive Party have a history of governing together and are seen as the most likely coalition, but other combinations are theoretically possible.
Social Democratic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir was expected to announce her resignation on Sunday.