Dutch anti-Mus­lim leader fails to cap­ture a top spot

But Geert Wilders’ party will gain seats in par­lia­ment.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Michael Birn­baum Wash­ing­ton Post

The Dutch po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment on Wed­nes­day fended off a chal­lenge from anti-Mus­lim fire­brand Geert Wilders, po­ten­tially blunt­ing the mo­men­tum of anti-es­tab­lish­ment politi­cians across Europe.

The re­sult of the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions meant that Wilders would re­main a pow­er­ful voice on im­mi­gra­tion is­sues in the Nether­lands. But it left in place Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte and did lit­tle to al­ter the fun­da­men­tal dy­namic in a coun­try un­happy with the sta­tus quo but deeply di­vided among many po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Ad­dress­ing an elec­tion-night gath­er­ing of sup­port­ers in the Hague, Rutte said “the Nether­lands said ‘Whoa! Stop!’ to the wrong kind of pop­ulism” af­ter Bri­tain voted to leave the Euro­pean Union and the United States elected Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent.

Wilders faded af­ter top­ping opin­ion polls for most of the past 18 months, as Dutch vot­ers ap­peared not to fully embrace an elec­tion mes­sage that de­scribed some Moroc­cans as “scum” and called for ban­ning the Ko­ran and shut­ter­ing mosques.

His muted show­ing was likely to com­fort pro-Euro­pean Union lead­ers who face po­lit­i­cal in­sur­gen­cies af­ter years of eco­nomic stag­na­tion and strain from a refugee in­flux.

But Wilders still gained seats, re­con­firm­ing his role as a sharp thorn in the side of the na­tion’s more cen­trist lead­ers.

“Rutte is far away from rid of me!!” Wilders wrote on Twit­ter.

The vot­ing re­sults ap­peared to show a na­tion that agreed it dis­liked the sta­tus quo but was di­vided about an al­ter­na­tive di­rec­tion.

The rul­ing cen­ter-right Party for Free­dom and Democ­racy re­mained the largest party, but it was on track to lose nearly a quar­ter of its seats in par­lia­ment, forc­ing Rutte to broaden his coali­tion across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. His coali­tion part­ner, the cen­ter-left Labour Party, may be wiped out as a po­lit­i­cal force, plum­met­ing from 38 seats to nine out of a to­tal of 150.

Even as Wilders con­fronted lim­its to his bal­lot-box ap­peal, his agenda-set­ting power re­mained ev­i­dent af­ter many main­stream politi­cians tacked right­ward dur­ing the cam­paign to ad­vo­cate for stricter lim­its on im­mi­grants.

His Party for Free­dom was fore­cast to build slightly on its cur­rent 15 seats in the lower house of par­lia­ment, ty­ing it with the cen­trist Democrats 66 party, and the cen­ter-right Chris­tian Demo­cratic Ap­peal. The cen­ter-left Green-Left party also ap­peared to do well, po­ten­tially qua­dru­pling its seats.

Rutte has re­peat­edly said he would not work with Wilders, but the likely for­ma­tion of a broad, weak coali­tion across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum could give ex­tra am­mu­ni­tion to the per­ox­ide-haired fire­brand.

Rutte also sig­nif­i­cantly tough­ened his stance on im­mi­grants dur­ing the cam­paign in a bid to cap­ture Wilders’ sup­port­ers, telling im­mi­grants in Jan­uary to “act nor­mal or go away.”

Wilders’ show­ing will prob­a­bly slow the mo­men­tum of French anti-im­mi­grant leader Marine Le Pen, who, if she cap­tures her na­tion’s pres­i­dency in May, will try to lead France out of the EU, shat­ter­ing the bloc in the process.

Wilders’ muted show­ing is likely to com­fort some pro-Euro­pean Union lead­ers.

PETER DE­JONG / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pa­per bal­lots are sorted and hand-counted Wed­nes­day at the mayor’s of­fice in The Hague. Vot­ing re­sults ap­peared to show a na­tion that agreed it dis­liked the sta­tus quo but was di­vided about an al­ter­na­tive di­rec­tion.

Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte will need a broader coali­tion.

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