The free-market liberal VVD party has won a narrow victory in Dutch parliamentary elections.
It is the first time the liberals have ever become the largest party. And it has been one hundred years since the Netherlands has had a liberal prime minister. But the VVD victory is also the narrowest in modern Dutch history, and with 31 seats in parliament, the VVD becomes the smallest party to win an election.
Leader Mark Rutte, likely to become the next prime minister, addressed his supporters in the early hours of Thursday morning.
"People, what a special evening. And exciting. It looks as though for the first time in our history the VVD is the largest party in the Netherlands."
The Labour Party (PvdA) came in a close second, with 30 seats. Nonetheless, Labour leader Job Cohen was pleased with the result. After all, his party brought about the fall of the previous cabinet, and as a brand new party leader, Mr Cohen had been struggling during the election campaign. But the party managed to limit the damage.
"Lots of people thought, that's it for the Labour Party, the Labour Party is written off….well, Here we are!"
Outside of the big two - the biggest winner of the day is far-right populist Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV). The party will more than double its number of seats in parliament, getting 24 seats. It now has nine. Of all the parties, it saw the biggest percentage gains.
Speaking to raucous supporters when the first results were announced, Mr Wilders said, "The impossible has come true." He called this a glorious day for the entire country, and said about one-and-a-half million people chose the Freedom Party's "optimistic" platform. The Freedom Party becomes the third-largest party in the Dutch parliament.
The question remains whether or not the Freedom Party will be able to join a coalition government. Mr Wilders feels his party should be considered in any new coalition formation. "I hope that we can govern. They can't get around us or push us aside," he said.
But it's unclear whether the VVD's Mark Rutte agrees. He has said he does not rule out any party. But cooperation between the VVD and the Freedom Party would prove difficult.
Plus, it is not uncommon for a party that does well to be excluded from coalition talks. In the last election, the Socialist Party almost tripled in size, ending up with 25 seats, in parliament and did not join the governing coalition.
Forming any coalition is going to prove difficult. A right-wing coalition including the VVD, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Party commands only a slim majority. Another three-party option is a so-called "government of national unity". The VVD, the Labour Party and the Christian Democrats, together have 82 seats, a solid majority. But it would be politically difficult.
Party factions will meet on Thursday to discuss their options. Mr Wilders, combative as ever, set the tone for his Freedom Party meeting.
"And I say to all the newly elected Freedom Party MPs of our beautiful party, bring battering rams with you, because starting tomorrow, we're going to give them hell!"
End of an era
The biggest loser of the night was Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. In an emotional moment, he announced he was stepping down as leader of the Christian Democrat party. The party has suffered an historic defeat, losing nearly half its seats.
Mr Balkenende called the results "very, very disappointing".
This brings the Balkenende era of Dutch politics, which began when he became prime minister in 2002, to an end.
Mr Balkenende will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new government is sworn in.
Wednesday's election marks a turning point in Dutch politics.
About five percent of the vote remains to be counted, including thousands of absentee ballots sent in by Dutch people living abroad. But the VVD is 47,000 votes ahead of Labour, a margin most analysts think will be impossible to overcome.
Turnout was the lowest in years as heavy rain showers kept some voters at home. Seventy-four percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.
150 is the number of seats in the Dutch Parliament
The parties represented in this graphic with the number of seats between brackets are:
PvdA (Dutch Labour Party)
PVV (Geert Wilders' Freedom Party)
VVD (centre-right liberals)
CDA (Christian Democrats)
SGP (Protestant party)
SP (Socialist Party)
Partij voor de Dieren (Party for the Animals)
D66 (Democrats 66)
ChristenUnie (Christian Union)
Trots op Nederland (Proud of the Netherlands)