Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sees off far-right threat

Centre-right VVD party is largest party in the Netherlands, while Geert Wilders's far-right politicians win 20 seats

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte
(Image credit: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has defeated far-right anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders and claimed a resounding victory in a general election seen as a litmus test for the rise of populism in Europe.

Rutte's centre-right VVD Party looks set to emerge from yesterday's vote with a total of 33 seats, eight fewer than at the last election but well clear of the 20 seats likely to go to Wilders' PVV "Freedom Party".

Two parties - the Democrats 66 and Christian Democratic Appeal - are tied in third place with 19 seats each.

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Rutte is "likely to need three other parties to join with his VVD party to get the 76-seat majority needed in the 150-seat parliament", says The Guardian.

The result is a "huge relief to other EU governments facing a wave of nationalism", says the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rutte told a cheering crowd of supporters: "Our message to the Netherlands – that we will hold our course and keep this country safe, stable and prosperous - got through."

Wilders took to Twitter to thank his supporters, writing: "We won seats! The first victory is in! And Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!!"

Despite Rutte's win, voters have drifted away from the centre. The Green-Left party gained ten seats, putting it in a position to play the kingmaker once coalition negotiations begin, says the BBC.

Rutte's outgoing coalition partner, the social democratic Labour party, looks to be the big loser, slumping from 38 seats to just nine.

French President Francois Hollande called Rutte's win a "clear victory against extremism".

He added: "The values of openness, respect for others, and a faith in Europe's future are the only true response to the nationalist impulses and isolationism that are shaking the world."

France's election, in which the centrist Emmanuel Macron is likely to face the far-right Marine Le Pen in the final round of voting, is the next big test for European nationalism.

In Germany, which also goes to the polls this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff tweeted: "The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion! Congratulations on this great result."

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