Saturday 29 April 2017

Wilders's support drops, as PM's party set for win

Armed guards watch as voters queue outside a polling station during the Dutch general election in The Hague. Photo: Reuters
Armed guards watch as voters queue outside a polling station during the Dutch general election in The Hague. Photo: Reuters

Peter Foster

Exit polls in the Dutch general election have shown that Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centre-right VVD party will win 31 of 150 seats, compared to 19 seats for three other parties, including that of the hard-right anti-Islam politician Gert Wilders.

Weeks or months of coalition talks are expected to follow.

Mr Rutte had called on voters to "make a point" to the world and turn their backs on the rising tide of populism in Europe and America by rejecting the campaign of Mr Wilders (pictured inset).

In an election being watched nervously in Brussels and major European capitals for fear of another anti-establishment victory, Mr Rutte said it was up to the Netherlands to hold the line.

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV party votes in the general election in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: Reuters
Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV party votes in the general election in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: Reuters

"It is the third elections after Brexit, after the American elections," he said as he cast his vote at a school in The Hague. "This is a chance for a big democracy like the Netherlands to make a point - to stop this toppling over of the domino stones of the wrong sort of populism."

Early exit polls suggested his call had been heeded, with his ruling VVD party winning 31 seats in the Netherlands' 150-seat parliament - a much stronger performance than pre-vote polls had indicated.

Mr Wilder's Party for Freedom (PVV) was slated to win 19 seats, neck and neck with the pro-EU D66 party and the centre-right conservative Christian Democrats (CDA).

If the results were confirmed, it would be a disappointing showing for Mr Wilders despite representing a four-seat gain from 2012, but far short of the 40 seats he was slated to win at the height of his poll popularity in December 2015.

In the final days of the campaign, Mr Rutte had warned of "chaos" if Mr Wilders was allowed into government, urging his voters to the polls. High turnout figures in cities suggested he was successful in that appeal.

His impassioned plea for tolerance came at the end of a bitter campaign with Mr Wilders pressing his anti-immigrant agenda - at one point using the phrase "Moroccan scum" - and a ferocious diplomatic row with Turkey that further raised the temperature of the immigration debate.

As he cast his vote, Mr Wilders, who wants a referendum on EU membership, said: "The message is that many people want to regain national sovereignty, they don't want to be dependent on the political elite whether that is in their own capitals or in Brussels."

He claimed that "many European people believe we should be in charge of our own immigration policy and our own fiscal policy".

Early indications were of a high turnout at the polls, a reflection of the charged nature of the campaign in which televised debates between the candidates have won record audiences. Two-thirds of the country's 13 million voters had said they were undecided.

The fractured political landscape of the Netherlands, with more than 20 parties on the ballot sheet, means that forming a new government is expected to take months of negotiations between the parties, all of which have vowed to keep Mr Wilders from power.

The focus on questions of identity in the campaign has raised fears among Europe's political establishment that a strong showing by Mr Wilders would provide a boost in the forthcoming French presidential election for Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader.

Mr Rutte had tried to counter Mr Wilders's cruder appeals over immigration with a hardline message of his own, warning migrants in an ad campaign to "be normal or be gone".

Mr Wilders will also have to contend with a reawakening of the anti-populist left embodied in the figure of Jesse Klaver, a dynamic 30-year-old of Moroccan, Dutch and Indonesian descent who leads the progressive GreenLeft party.

Telegraph.co.uk

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