Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte today claimed a dominating parliamentary election victory over anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who failed the year's first litmus test for populism in Europe.
Provisional results with over half the votes counted suggested Rutte's party won 32 seats in the 150-member legislature, 13 more than Wilders' party, which took only third place with 19 seats. The surging CDA Christian Democrats claimed 20.
Following Britain's vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's election as US president, "the Netherlands said, 'Whoa!' to the wrong kind of populism," said Mr Rutte, who is now poised for a third term as prime minister.
"We want to stick to the course we have - safe and stable and prosperous," Mr Rutte added.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the free-market VVD party smiles after exit poll results of the parliamentary elections were announced in The Hague, Netherlands.
Source: Associated Press
Wilders, who campaigned on radical pledges to close borders to migrants from Muslim nations, close mosques, ban the Quran and take the Netherlands out of the EU, had insisted that whatever the result of the election, the kind of populist politics he and others in Europe represent aren't going away.
"Rutte has not seen the back of me," Mr Wilders said after the results had sunk in.
His Party for Freedom clinched 24 seats in 2010 before sinking to 15 in 2012, and today's total left him with about 12 per cent of the electorate, far less than populists in Britain and the United States have scored.
"Those are not the 30 seats we hoped for," Mr Wilders told reporters, adding that he'd "rather have been the biggest party".
Both France and Germany have elections this year in which far-right candidates and parties are hoping to make an impact.
French President Francois Hollande congratulated Mr Rutte on his election success and his "clear victory against extremism".
In Germany, Socialist leader Martin Schulz tweeted. "I am relieved, but we need to continue to fight for an open and Free Europe."
Mr Rutte, who for much of the campaign appeared to be racing to keep pace with Mr Wilders, may have profited from the hard line he drew in a diplomatic standoff with Turkey over the past week.
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 show his statesmanship by refusing to bow to foreign pressure, a stance with widespread backing in the nation.