Speed Reads

The Netherlands Votes

Dutch prime minister claims victory over far-right candidate Geert Wilders and 'the wrong kind of populism'

With more than half the votes counted in Wednesday's national elections, center-right Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is projected to keep his job with a commanding victory over far-right anti-Muslim nationalist Geert Wilders, whose anti-immigration Party for Freedom (PVV) had recently led in the polls. Analysts say the unusually robust turnout — about 82 percent of Dutch voters cast ballots — harmed Wilders, as did Rutte's rhetorical shift toward Wilders on immigration and the prime minister's recent standoff with Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Holland — whose countries both have elections coming up, with strong nationalist-populist candidates similar to Wilders — called Rutte to congratulate him on his win. "Today was a celebration of democracy," Rutte told supporters at a Wednesday night victory party. "The Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said no to the wrong kind of populism."

Rutte's VVD party is projected to win 32 of the 150 seats in the lower house, a drop from 41 seats, while Wilders' PVV is expected to win 19 seats, up from 15. The conservative Christian Democrats and centrist Democrats 66 (D66) are also projected to get 19 seats, gains from 13 and 12 seats, respectively, and the liberal GreenLeft party came in fifth with 15 votes, a sharp rise from four seats. The biggest loser was the Labor Party, which won just nine seats, down from 38 — punished, analysts say, for helping Rutte's coalition push through austerity measures. Rutte will have to form another coalition government with at least three other parties, a process that will take weeks or even months.

The VVD, like most other parties, has ruled out forming a coalition with Wilders' party. During the campaign, Wilders had pledged to "de-Islamicize" the Netherlands by closing mosques and Islamic cultural centers, banning the Quran — which he likened to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf — ending immigration from majority-Muslim nations, and pulling the country out of the European Union. Still, his loss "does not tell us much about European populism," Cornell University sociologist Mabel Berezin tells Reuters, noting that Wilders has been in parliament for nearly 20 years and "does not represent a populist wave." Instead, she said, "the real bellwether election will be Marine Le Pen's quest for the French presidency, starting April 23 — that is where the populist action is and that is what we should be focusing upon."