DUTCH PM PASSES POPULISM TEST
EU leaders congratulate Rutte, who defeated anti-Islam rival by 33 seats to 20
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.