The Netherlands’ main exit poll suggests Prime Minister Mark Rutte has won the Dutch elections, easily beating anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders.
For the two-time Prime Minister Rutte, the poll indicated an economic recovery and his hardline handling of a diplomatic dispute with Turkey over the past week had won him support.
The Ipsos polling company gave Rutte’s party 31 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament, compared to 19 seats for Wilders’ PVV.
“That is very bad news for Geert Wilders,” reported Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee from The Hague.
The exit poll predicted 19 seats each for the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Democracy Party (D66).
The exit poll was conducted at 43 of the 9,300 polling stations across the country Wednesday. It had a margin of error of two percentage points.
Final results are expected in the coming hours. Weeks or months of coalition talks are expected to follow.
The Dutch vote, which has been overshadowed by a diplomatic dispute between the Netherlands and Turkey, has essentially come down to a tight race between Rutte’s centre-right party and that of far-right, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders.
Most parties had pledged not to govern with the PVV.
As many as 13 million people were eligible to vote in Wednesday’s election and 28 parties were competing for the 150 seats in the Dutch lower house of parliament.
Turnout was just over 81 percent, eight percent lower than the record of 88 percent achieved in 1977.
“This is a crucial election for the Netherlands,” Rutte said as he voted. “This is a chance for a big democracy like the Netherlands to make a point … to stop this … the wrong sort of populism.”
Wilders, 53, has vowed to shut mosques, ban the Quran and close the country’s borders. He also wants to pull the country out of the European Union , an institution that it helped found, in a so-called Nexit.
One Muslim voter told AFP news agency that Wilders’ fiery anti-Islam rhetoric had prompted her family to come out and vote.
“My mother has never voted before, but now she has and encouraged the whole family to do so because the situation is serious.”
Speaking to reporters after he cast his ballott at a school, Wilders said: “Whatever the outcome of the election, the genie will not go back into the bottle. This patriotic revolution, whether today or tomorrow, will stay.”
Rutte, seeking to lead the Netherlands for a third successive term, is a liberal free-marketeer championing this year’s election on a pledge of safety and stability.
Analysts said his uncharacteristically strong stand since the weekend in a diplomatic crisis with Turkey – when Dutch authorities expelled one Turkish minister while another was refused permission to fly into the country to attend a political rally – has boosted his image with voters.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies