By Sara Webb
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Liberal Party has widened his lead over Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer in the run up to an election on September 12 that has been dominated by the euro zone crisis, two surveys showed on Monday.
However, with no single party set to win more than about a quarter of the seats in parliament, the Netherlands still faces the prospect of months of coalition talks and political uncertainty.
The fiscally conservative country is considered a core euro zone member and is one of the few that still has a triple-A credit rating.
But the election has highlighted growing discontent over Europe, in particular over the high cost of bailing out weaker euro zone states and the pressure for belt-tightening at home where welfare benefits are being steadily whittled away by budget cuts.
The latest Maurice de Hond and Ipsos Synovate opinion polls showed the Liberal Party in the lead, while the Labour Party has made gains at the expense of the Socialists, largely reflecting the stronger performance of Rutte and the new leader of the Labour Party, Diederik Samsom, in televised election debates.
"Everyone was expecting Rutte and (Socialist leader) Roemer to clash in these debates. There were high expectations for Roemer and a lot of people were rather disappointed by him," Philip van Praag, a political analyst at the University of Amsterdam, told Reuters.
"They were also surprised by Samsom. He debated very well, he was performing like a prime minister."
Rutte's party would win 35 seats in the 150-seat parliament, the latest de Hond poll showed, up from 32 seats in a poll by the same agency on August 26, while the Socialist Party would win 29 seats, down from 35 seats.
Labour is in third place and closing the gap behind the Socialists in the de Hond poll.
The Ipsos Synovate poll also put the Liberals in the lead with 35 seats, up from 34 seats on August 31, followed by Labour with 30 seats, up from 26, and the Socialists in third place with 24 seats, down from 27.
The de Hond poll said the first televised debate of the election campaign, held on August 26, had turned out to be a "game changer", and cited "the strong performance of Samsom during this debate and in other debates".
Many disgruntled Labour supporters who had turned to the Socialist Party are now switching back to Labour because of Samsom, de Hond said, adding that voters now see Samson as Rutte's closest rival as prime minister, not Roemer.
Rutte's Liberal Party and its coalition partner, the Christian Democrats, have pushed for spending cuts to bring the Netherlands' budget deficit below 3 percent of economic output by 2013, in line with European rules.
The Socialists and Labour both oppose austerity measures and want more time to achieve the EU's deficit target, but Labour - unlike the Socialists - has supported the government in voting for euro zone bailouts.
At the other end of the political spectrum, Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, wants the Netherlands to quit the euro and the EU.
Whoever wins the most seats in the election will still need to form a coalition from three or four other parties, a process which could take months while Rutte's caretaker government runs the country.
According to data on the Dutch parliament's website, following previous elections it has taken anywhere between 10 days - after the 1958 election - to as long as 208 days after elections in 1977 to form a coalition.
The table below shows the number of seats in parliament won at the last election, and the equivalent based on recent polls.
(Editing by Alison Williams)
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