Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has seen off a challenge by anti-Islam, right-wing firebrand Geert Wilders in parliamentary elections, a huge relief to other European Union governments facing a wave of nationalism.
Mr Rutte has said the election is an opportunity for voters to “beat the wrong sort of populism”. Rutte’s win for the Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) leaves him with eight fewer seats than last year’s election.
Elections in France and Germany are due later in the year and are expected to be more important for Euro-Zone assets, with attention focusing on their far-right parties, the National Front and Alternative for Germany respectively.
As victor, Prime Minister Mark Rutte must try to form a coalition with them.
But, what saved the Dutch from populism, as Rutte said at his speech after the victorious result? Wilders said he wanted to participate in coalition talks, even though mainstream parties have ruled out working with him. “And next time we’ll be the No. 1!”
Martin Schulz, Merkel’s primary rival in September’s electoral test, said he was “relieved” Wilders lost.
With around 95% of votes counted, Mr Rutte’s VVD Party won 33 of parliament’s 150 seats, down from 41 at the last vote in 2012.
PVV (19 seats) was in a three-way tie for second with the Christian Democrat CDA and centre-democrats D66, data provided by the ANP news agency showed. Several parties also shifted to the right during the election in an attempt to fend off Wilders. A diplomatic showdown with Turkey led to Rutte refusing to allow the country’s foreign minister to land in the Netherlands and Turkey’s family affairs minister to enter the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam.
Mr Wilders campaigned on radical pledges to close borders to migrants from Muslim nations, close mosques, ban the Koran and take the Netherlands out of the EU.
And people were keen to vote, too: the Netherlands registered a turnout of 82%, which is deemed one of the highest in decades. [President Rutte is] being taken hostage by Erdogan.
“He does not represent a populist wave”.
The VVD beating the PVV in the race to become the biggest party means that the Dutch people have refused to give power to a right wing populist party. “We love Orange for your actions and what you do”.
According to social media analysis, Wilders gained traction from the latest crisis with Turkey. His junior partner in the outgoing coalition, PvdA, suffered its worst-ever result. “Rutte is scared.” In truth, only a massive win by Mr Wilders, whose policies include a legally far-fetched pledge to ban the Koran and a referendum on European Union membership – would force other parties to consider working with him in a coalition government.