Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte hailed his victory over right-wing challenger Geert Wilders on Wednesday as a rejection of the “wrong kind of populism,” as Europeans anxiously watching the election held out hope for similar outcomes in Germany and France.
With 33 seats, Rutte’s VVD party became the largest in the Dutch Parliament as voters overwhelmingly rejected Wilders’ anti-Islam platform, although his Freedom Party (PVV) did gain 20 seats.
“Tonight the Netherlands, after Brexit and the American elections, said ‘stop’ to the wrong kind of populism,” Rutte told a crowd of supporters in The Hague.
Although the VVD is center-right, its victory against PVV was seen as critical. Wilders, who has gained notoriety for his provocative statements, ran on an Islamophobic, anti-immigrant platform and has been cited by the United Nations and human rights groups as one of the “Western demagogues” fueling the rise of nationalism around the world, along with U.S. President Donald Trump and the U.K.’s Nigel Farage.
With far-right figures also hoping to make gains in Germany and France’s upcoming elections, many voters saw the Netherlands as a first test of new-wave rightwing populism in Europe. Wilders’ loss reinvigorated hopes that those parties would likewise fail.
French President François Hollande congratulated Rutte and said he won a “clear victory against extremism.”
German Socialist leader Martin Schulz tweeted, “I am relieved, but we need to continue to fight for an open and Free Europe.”
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