Dutch anti-Muslim leader fails to capture a top spot
But Geert Wilders’ party will gain seats in parliament.
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.
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.