Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right party is celebrating a resounding win over populist Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom, in a result that's being welcomed by centrists and progressives in France and Germany, which will also hold national elections this year.
"The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!" tweeted Peter Altmaier, chief of staff for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Congratulations on this great result."
Maintaining the edge it established in early poll results, Rutte's VVD Party currently has 33 seats in the 150-seat legislature, compared with 20 for Wilders' party. Two other parties are close behind, with 19 seats each. That's the picture as of around noon local time Thursday in the Netherlands, with ballots in 382 of 388 municipalities counted, according to public broadcast outlet NOS.
The decisive victory comes after months of polls that suggested either a Wilders victory or at least a tight outcome in an election that was defined by talk of immigration and anti-European Union sentiment. During the campaign, Wilders' anti-Muslim stance helped him ride a wave of support — his party was once projected to win nearly 40 seats. But in the Netherlands, at least, that wave seems to have crested in the wake of agenda-shifting votes in the U.K. and the U.S. last year.
"In interviews across the country in the past week, even Wilders' supporters found some of his rhetoric too incendiary," NPR's Frank Langfitt reported from Holland on Wednesday, "including his suggestions that the Netherlands kick some Moroccans out of the country."
With Rutte's allies in the Labour Party (also known by the acronym PvdA) suffering deep losses in Wednesday's vote, the prime minister's party will need to form a new governing coalition. As the news outlet NL Times notes, progressive and centrist parties such as GroenLinks gained seats this week.
Polling stations saw high turnout, creating a tough task for Dutch election officials who've been hand-counting ballots due to concerns over possible hacking of the vote.
Both Rutte and Wilders cast their ballots in The Hague. After he visited the polling station, Wilders told reporters that momentum was on his side, regardless of the results.
"Whatever the outcome of the election today, the genie will not go back into the bottle," he said. "People feel misrepresented."
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