The country's system of strict proportional representation means that, as there are 150 MPs, one vote in 150 will deliver your party a parliamentary seat.

PR also means that it in the Netherlands it is much easier than it would be in Britain to form a new party, or keep a small party in business.

This last election saw the entry of two entirely new parties and the disappearance of the short-lived grouping of the murdered right-wing populist leader Pim Fortuyn.

One of the new parties, the Freedom Party led by maverick MP Geert Wilders, also has a right-wing, anti-immigration profile, though PR has surprisingly not produced a full-blow fascist grouping such as neighboruing Belgium's Vlaams Belang or France's Front National.

The other new party was the world's first animal rights party.

More importantly, when all the votes were counted, what the polls had been predicting for weeks had really happened: the country's most left-wing parliamentary party, the Socialist Party (SP) had achieved an historic breakthrough, almost tripling its share of the vote and seeing its team of MPs go from nine to twenty-five.

The full result was: Christian Democrats (CDA - centre-right - ) down from 44 to 41; Labour Party (PvdA - centre left, 42 to 33); SP, up from 9 to 25; VVD (right-wing 'Thatcherites'), down from 28 to 22; Freedom Party (PvdV, 0 to 9); Green Left (8 to 7); Christian Union (religious centrists), 3 tp 6; D66 (similar to LibDems) 6 to 3; Party for Amimals (PvdD, 0 to 2); the SGP (right-wing Christian fundamentalists), held their two seats.

In order to form a government, a stable majority is generally considered essential, so any coalition needs the support of at least 76 MPs.

This time, simple arithmetic dictates that until at least three parties can agree to form a coalition, the old centre-right government of CDA and VVD must stagger on.

The system is often criticised abroad, though rarely in the Netherlands itself, for its capacity to produce just the kind of confusion, and potentially deadlock, which we are seeing this time.

As SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard says, however, "the alternative is four more years of the kind of neoliberal policies, I'd prefer deadlock."