Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his VVD party was on course for victory in Dutch parliamentary elections on Wednesday (March 16) in a result he declared represented a rejection of “the wrong kind of populism”.
Rutte, who beat off a challenge from anti-Islam and anti-EU far-right firebrand Geert Wilders, said he had spoken to a number of European leaders already by telephone.
“This is also a night when the Netherlands after Brexit, after American elections, has said ‘stop’ to the wrong kind of populism,” Rutte told supporters at a post-election party in the Hague.
Rutte’s VVD Party was projected to win 31 of parliament’s 150 seats, down from 41 at the last vote in 2012, but ahead of Wilders who tied in second place with two other parties at 19 each, according to the polls by national broadcaster NOS based on interviews with voters.
At 81 percent, turnout was the highest in 30 years in an election that was a test of whether the Dutch wanted to end decades of liberalism and choose a nationalist, nativist path by voting for Wilders and his promise to “de-Islamise” the Netherlands and quit the European Union.
Rutte said his party’s lead was a sign voters endorsed his policies and chose not to step away from the European union.
“I think it means (that), in the Netherlands, the people have been responsive to two messages, in the first place, that we should not experiment, that we should continue the policies of the country to make its economy strong and now to make people feel in their personal lives that this economy is one of the best performing economies in the Western world,” he said.
The result was a relief to mainstream parties across Europe, particularly in France and Germany, where right-wing nationalists hope to make a big impact in elections this year, potentially posing an existential threat to the EU.