Dutch people have rejected a far-Right, anti-Muslim agenda in a close-fought general election.
Premier Mark Rutte (pictured) said: “The Netherlands said ‘Whoa!'” after his centre-right VVD party’s lead positioned him for a third successive term. He claimed that the outcome showed that decent people did not go along with “the wrong sort of populism.”
With nearly all votes counted, his party easily beat the anti-immigration Freedom party of Geert Wilders.
Fellow eurozone countries France and Germany also face elections this year, and the Dutch contest proved a test of support for nationalist parties that have been gaining ground across Europe.
Despite the clear set-back, Wilders repeated his pledges to take the country out of the EU, close all mosques and ban the Koran. He warned that Rutte had “not seen the last” of him.
“It’s not the 30 seats I hoped for but we have gained seats,” he added. “This patriotic spring will happen.”
With all but two vote counts complete, the prime minister’s party has won 33 out of 150 seats, a loss of eight seats from the previous parliament. The Freedom party was in second place on 20 seats, a gain of five, with the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal D66 party close behind with 19 seats each.
The Green-Left party also did well, winning 14 seats, an increase of 10. But the Labour Party (PvdA), the junior party in the governing coalition, suffered a historic defeat by winning only nine seats, a loss of 29. Labour’s defeat appeared to signal voters shifting to the right, as many of the seats it lost did not go to other left-wing parties.
Turnout was 80.2%, the highest for 30 years, which analysts say may have benefited pro-EU and liberal parties.
“We want to stick to the course we have – safe and stable and prosperous,” Rutte said.
France goes to the polls next month to elect a new president, with the far right National Front forecast to increase its vote dramatically.
In Germany, the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) may win seats in parliament for the first time in September’s general election.
French President Francois Hollande said Rutte had won a “clear victory against extremism”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a “very pro-European result, a clear signal… and a good day for democracy” and her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: “The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!”.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Dutch voters for their “responsibility”. Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament until earlier this year, said he was relieved the Freedom Party had lost. “We must continue to fight for an open and free Europe!” he added.
Weeks before the election, opinion polls forecast the PVV winning the biggest number of seats but Wilders’ lead vanished, in part due to self-inflicted wounds – he refused to take part in two TV debates because of scathing comments about him made by his brother, Paul, on the same TV channel.