THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- An exit poll predicted a narrow election victory Wednesday for Prime Minister Mark Rutte's free-market and pro-European Union VVD party, but the result was considered too close to call.
The poll, commissioned by the two biggest Dutch news broadcasters, gave VVD 41 of the House of Representatives' 150 seats and the center-left Labor Party 40 votes. It has a 1.5 percent margin of error.
If official results bear out the poll, the result would set up VVD and Labor -- both pro-Europe parties -- to forge a two-party ruling coalition with Rutte returning for a second term as prime minister. Both parties won an extra 10 seats compared with the last parliament.
Final results were not expected until early Thursday.
The election was cast as a virtual referendum on Europe amid the continent's crippling debt crisis, but the result was a stark rejection of the most radical critic of the EU, anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party was forecast to win 13 seats, 11 fewer than at the last election.
Wilders appeared to have been punished by voters for walking out of talks with Rutte in April to hammer out an austerity package to rein in the Dutch budget deficit.
"The voter has spoken," Wilders told supporters in a Hague cafe. "We have lost heavily."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt welcomed the result.
"Looks as if populist anti-Europeans are losing big time in Dutch election. Distinctly good news," Bildt tweeted.
The VVD's campaign manager, lawmaker Stef Blok, did not want to speculate about possible coalition partners until final results come in, but said the information so far "shows the VVD has an unbelievable amount of support."
Ronald Plasterk of Labor said voters had backed his party's more leftist policies.
"It's an honest platform," he said. "On the one hand we're for a strong euro, for solid government finances, but also for a real social policy and welfare net."
The result was a victory for pro-European forces in the Netherlands, a founding member of the EU whose export-driven economy has benefited from the bloc's open market.
Regardless of whether Rutte or center-left Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom leads the new Dutch government, it will not try to derail the current Franco-German compromise approach to solving Europe's sovereign debt crisis.
That means cost-cutting for most governments to keep them within European budget deficit rules, but allowing exceptions or even bailouts for fiscally stressed countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy -- as long as they adhere to externally mandated cost-cutting targets and labor market reforms.
While critical of a strict austerity-only solution to the debt crisis, Labor backed Rutte at crucial moments to approve bailout funds and endorse European-level solutions to prevent the debt crisis from spinning out of control.
Rutte is closer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in outlook, and Samsom closer to French President Francois Hollande, but in a coalition those differences would mostly balance out.
By not flocking toward Wilders or the euroskeptic Socialist Party, Dutch voters signaled a cautious acceptance of Europe: in national polls, voters said that no election issue was nearly as important as the state of the Dutch economy and the effect Europe's sovereign debt crisis is having on it.
For the Dutch, the elections are something of a return to normalcy after a decade of upheaval.
For the first time since the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical, television debates and the national discussion focused on economic policies such as mortgage deductions and the retirement age, rather than Muslim integration and immigrant crime.