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Dutch PM Rutte claims win over ‘wrong kind of populism’





THE HAGUE — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Wednesday claimed a dominating parliamentary election victory over anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who seems to have failed the year’s first test of populism in Europe.

The Netherlands’ main exit poll found Rutte’s party won 31 seats in the 150-place legislature, 12 more than Wilders’s party, which shared second place with two other parties.

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With France and Germany facing elections in the months ahead, Rutte hoped to slow the momentum of what he called the ‘‘wrong sort of populism’’ after last’s year British vote to leave the European Union and President Trump’s election.

Addressing an election night gathering of supporters in The Hague, Rutte claimed victory and said, ‘‘the Netherlands said ‘Whoa! Stop!’ ’’ to the populist domino effect.

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‘‘I am so proud at what has happened and happy that we have been given the trust again’’ by voters, Tamara van Ark, campaign leader of Rutte’s center-right VVD party said.

Wilders had insisted that whatever the result of Wednesday’s election, the kind of populist politics he and others in Europe represent aren’t going away. ‘‘Rutte has not seen the back of me!’’ Wilders said in a Twitter reaction.

Rutte, who for much of the campaign appeared to be racing to keep pace with Wilders, may have profited from the hard line he drew in a diplomatic standoff with Turkey over the past week.

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The fight erupted over the Netherlands’ refusal to let two Turkish government ministers address rallies in Rotterdam about a referendum that could give Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers. It gave Rutte an opportunity to refuse to bow to foreign pressure, a stance with widespread backing in the nation.

The turnout was estimated to have reached at 82 percent.

In a subplot of the elections, the Ipsos exit poll had the Green Left party registering a historic victory, turning it into the largest party on the left wing of Dutch politics for the first time.

The Greens leapt from four seats to 16 in Parliament after a strong campaign by charismatic leader Jesse Klaver, according to the exit poll.

It remains to be seen if the 30-year-old Klaver will take his party into the next ruling coalition, which looks likely to be dominated by Rutte’s VVD and other right-leaning parties.

Weeks, if not months, of coalition-building talks may be required before a new government is installed

The chance of Wilders becoming prime minister in the Netherlands, where a proportional representation voting system all but guarantees coalition governments, was remote, even if his party had placed first in the election.

Wilders had pledged to close borders to immigrants from Muslim nations, close mosques, and ban the Koran, as well as to take the Netherlands out of the European Union.

Rutte has driven through unpopular austerity measures over the last four years, but the Dutch economic recovery has gathered pace and unemployment has fallen fast.


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