DUTCH PM PASSES POP­ULISM TEST

EU lead­ers con­grat­u­late Rutte, who de­feated anti-Is­lam ri­val by 33 seats to 20

New Straits Times - - News -

THE HAGUE

PRIME Min­is­ter Mark Rutte eas­ily de­feated a strong chal­lenge by far­right ri­val Geert Wilders in a key elec­tion seen as a bell­wether of pop­ulist sup­port in Europe, ac­cord­ing to Dutch news agency ANP.

With 97 per cent of votes counted, Rutte’s Lib­eral VVD party was cred­ited with 33 seats, mak­ing it the largest in the new 150-seat Par­lia­ment. VVD won 41 seats in the 2012 elec­tion.

Wilders and his Free­dom Party (PVV) were beaten into sec­ond place on 20 seats.

Mil­lions of Dutch voted in a near-record turnout, with the stakes high in an elec­tion pit­ting the pro-Euro­pean Rutte against his anti-Is­lam and anti-EU ri­val.

Fol­low­ing last year’s shock Brexit ref­er­en­dum and Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory in the United States, the Dutch vote was be­ing closely scru­ti­nised as a gauge of the rise of pop­ulism on the con­ti­nent ahead of cru­cial elec­tions in France and Ger­many.

“This was the evening when The Nether­lands, af­ter Brexit and the Amer­i­can elec­tions, said ‘stop’ to the wrong kind of pop­ulism,” Rutte told cheer­ing sup­port­ers.

“Now, it’s im­por­tant to unite the coun­try in the com­ing weeks and months, and that we suc­ceed in form­ing a sta­ble gov­ern­ment for the next four years.”

Re­lieved Euro­pean lead­ers, fear­ing the rise of anti-EU sen­ti­ment in one of the bloc’s found­ing mem­bers, con­grat­u­lated Rutte, now headed for a third term at the head of one of the eu­ro­zone’s largest economies.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said: “The Nether­lands are our part­ners, friends and neigh­bours. There­fore, I was very happy that a high turnout led to a very pro-Euro­pean re­sult, a clear sig­nal.”

Euro­pean Commission Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker con­grat­u­lated Rutte and said: “The peo­ple of The Nether­lands voted over­whelm­ingly for the val­ues Europe stands for: free and tol­er­ant so­ci­eties in a pros­per­ous Europe.”

French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, near the end of his five-year term, con­grat­u­lated Rutte on the cen­tre-right premier’s un­ex­pect­edly size­able score.

“The Pres­i­dent warmly con­grat­u­lates Mark Rutte for his clear vic­tory against ex­trem­ism.”

Wilders had pledged to close the bor­ders to Mus­lim im­mi­grants, shut mosques, ban sales of the Qu­ran and leave the EU if he won the polls.

He boasted of his party’s suc­cess as he has added five seats since the 2012 elec­tion.

“We were the 3rd largest party of the Nether­lands. Now we are the 2nd largest party. Next time we will be no. 1!” he tweeted.

The Chris­tian Demo­cratic Ap­peal (CDA) and the Democ­racy party D66 were joint third be­hind Wilders with 19 seats each.

Wilders said early yesterday he was pre­pared to work with the new gov­ern­ment if asked, but Rutte and most party lead­ers have vowed to snub him. That would leave Wilders’ party as the big­gest op­po­si­tion.

The CDA and D66, long-es­tab­lished Dutch par­ties which have of­ten been in gov­ern­ment, would be nat­u­ral part­ners for Rutte to form a cen­tre-right coali­tion.

The three par­ties com­bined would have 71 seats and would need a fourth to reach the 76 needed for a ma­jor­ity.

Geert Wilders

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