Prime minister Mark Rutte looks set to be the winner of the Dutch election, but without coalition partners. Wilders told RTL that even though he did not beat Rutte, he hoped that his party would be firm opposition to Rutte's VVD.
With just over a tenth of the votes counted, Rutte’s VVD Party had been projected to win, ahead of Wilders who was in third place at 20 seats, according to data provided by the ANP Dutch news agency. Wilders took his home town Venlo as well as the symbolic Maastricht.
The final official numbers are not published until 21 March.
Despite being the winner, Rutte’s VVD is expected to lose 10 seats, a huge loss from 41 to 31 seats, exit polls have suggested. His junior partner in the outgoing coalition, Labour, suffered its worst ever result. The biggest losers of the night are expected to drop from 38 to 9 seats.
This leaves Rutte with a headache because he will have to find suitable coalition partners as he has ruled out working with Wilders.
At 81 percent, turnout was the highest in 30 years on Wilders’ promise to “de-Islamicise” the Netherlands. In Nijmegen, polling stations ran out of ballot papers and had to extend opening times to give people enough time to vote.
The PVV, Wilders’ party showed a considerable improvement from the 15 seats won in the 2012 election. Wilders tweeted: “We won seats! The first victory is in! And Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!!”
Rutte, the incumbent prime minister, was bolstered by the recent Dutch row with Turkey after his government forecefully deported a Turkish minister. A last-minute boost from the diplomatic fall-out came as Rutte took a tough stance on a majority Muslim country during an election campaign in which immigration and integration had been key issues.
Denk, a party supported by mainly Turkish Muslims, is set to win a seat or two as well, to become the first ever ethnic party in parliament.
Wilders said he was disappointed with the results, but looked to the positives of the election: “I would rather have been the largest party. (But) we gained seats. That’s a result to be proud of.”
When asked about Rutte’s remarks regarding “the wrong kind of populism”, the Freedom party leader said: “I don’t know what he [Rutte] means. He is implying there are good and bad populists.I don’t see myself as a populist but he is suggesting I am a bad populist and some kind of Nazi.”
Eurocrats were gloating about outcome, as the result is a huge relief to other EU governments facing a wave of nationalism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: “The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!….. Congratulations on this great result.”
France’s Socialist Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tweeted: “Congratulations to the Dutch for stemming the rise of the far-right.”
Paolo Gentiloni, Italian prime minister, tweeted: “No Nexit. The anti-EU right has lost the Dutch elections. Now a common commitment to change and relaunch the Union.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s chief Brexit negotiatior, tweeted: “1st exit polls great! @VVD by far the biggest. @D66 up by a lot. Pro European parties on the rise. NL remains liberal & pro-European stronghold!”
Martin Schulz, the German Social Democrat leader, tweeted: “Geert Wilders could not win the election [in the Netherlands]. I am relieved.”
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