According to a near-complete record of the vote early Thursday, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders won a massive victory in Dutch elections, in a shocking shift to the far right for a country once known as a beacon of tolerance.
Anti-Islam Populist Geert Wilders
The outcome will send shockwaves throughout Europe, where far-right ideology is on the increase, and puts Wilders in line to head discussions to create the next ruling coalition and maybe become the Netherlands’ first far-right prime minister.
With almost all ballots counted, Wilders’ Party for Freedom was expected to win 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, two more than anticipated by an exit poll after voting closed Wednesday night and more than double the 17 he gained in the previous election.
“I had to pinch my arm,” an ecstatic Wilders stated. Separate meetings of political parties were planned for Thursday to examine the outcome before the arduous process of establishing a new ruling coalition began on Friday.
Notwithstanding his strong language, Wilders has already begun courting other right and centre parties by stating in his victory speech that whatever reforms he advocates will be “within the law and constitution.”
“Wilders’ election platform included calls for a referendum on the Netherlands’ exit from the European Union, a complete halt to accepting asylum seekers, and migrant pushbacks at Dutch borders.”
It also promotes “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands. He has stated that he does not want any mosques or Islamic schools in the country, yet he has been more tolerant of Islam during this election campaign than in previous ones.
Instead, his triumph appears to be based on his campaign to limit migration — the subject that forced the previous ruling coalition to resign in July — and to address concerns like the cost-of-living crises and housing shortages.
“I believe, to be honest, a lot of people are very focused on one particular problem, which is immigration,” voter Norbert van Beelen remarked in The Hague on Thursday morning.
“So I think that’s what individuals voted for, immigration and all the other aspects of leaving the European Union looking inward rather than outward are just forgotten.” It’s all about immigration.”
Wilders declared in his victory speech that he wants to put an end to the “asylum tsunami,” referring to the migration problem that dominated his campaign. “The Dutch will be No. 1 again,” claimed Wilders. “The people must get their nation back.”
However, Wilders, who has been compared to Donald Trump in the past, must first create a coalition government before assuming office. That will be difficult because major parties are hesitant to join forces with Trump and his party, but the magnitude of his victory gives him an advantage in any negotiations.
Wilders urged other parties to participate actively in coalition talks. Pieter Omtzigt, a former moderate Christian Democrat who formed his own New Social Contract party in three months and won 20 seats, said he was always open to negotiations.
The one closest party to Wilders’ in the election was an alliance of the center-left Labour Party and the Green Left, which was expected to win 25 seats. However, its leader, Frans Timmermans, has made it clear that Wilders should not expect a partnership with him. “We will never form a coalition with parties that pretend that asylum seekers are the source of all misery,” Timmermans stated, vowing to safeguard Dutch democracy.
This historic victory came one year after that of Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy roots were rooted in nostalgia for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Meloni’s stance on key topics has since softened, and she has emerged as the EU’s acceptable face of the far right.
Wilders has long been a firebrand, lashing out at Islam, the EU, and migrants – a posture that has brought him near to power but never into it in a country notorious for compromise politics. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who boasts of turning Hungary into a “illiberal” state and has similarly tough attitudes on migration and EU institutions, was quick to applaud Wilders. “The winds of change have arrived!” “Congratulations,” Orban said.
Throughout the last weeks of his campaign, Wilders softened his attitude and promised to be a prime minister for all Dutch people, earning him the nickname Geert “Milders.”
The election was called after outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s fourth and final coalition resigned in July after failing to agree on migration-control measures. Rutte was succeeded by Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, a former Turkish refugee who could have become the country’s first female prime minister if her party had received the most votes. Instead, it was expected to lose 10 seats, leaving it with 24.
The outcome is the latest in a string of elections that are reshaping Europe’s political landscape. Populist and hard-right parties prevailed in certain EU member countries while faltering in others, from Slovakia and Spain to Germany and Poland.
Wilders’ triumph, Dutch voter Barbara Belder remarked Thursday morning in The Hague, “is a very clear sign that the Netherlands wants something different.”