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.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, expressed unrestrained joy at the outcome, tweeting, “The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!…Congratulations on this great result.”
The Christian Democrats (CDA) and Liberal Democrats (D66) both won 19 seats.
Meanwhile, the Greens quadrupled their vote share with 14 seats, up from just four in 2012.
“This is a fantastic result for us, a historic victory,” said the party’s chairwoman Marjolein Meijer, who said the outcome meant there was “very fertile ground in the Netherlands for change and a positive and hopeful story.”
“For us this is just the beginning,” she said.
The Greens’ victory means it is now the largest left-wing party in the Netherlands’ history. Its leader, Jesse Klaver, urged voters to be “pro-refugee” and “pro-European.”