Dutch elections: In a political shift to far right, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders wins big

The result is sending shockwaves across Europe

Dutch elections Dutch far-right politician and leader of the PVV party, Geert Wilders gestures as he meets with members of his party at the Dutch Parliament, after the Dutch parliamentary elections, in The Hague, Netherlands | Reuters

Anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders said Thursday he is ready to join the next Dutch coalition government after he surged to a huge election victory that marked a stunning lurch to the far right for a nation once famed as a beacon of tolerance.

The result is sending shockwaves through Europe, where extremist right-wing ideology is putting pressure on democracies that now face the possibility of having to deal with the first far-right prime minister of the Netherlands.

It is going to happen that the PVV is in the next Cabinet, Wilders said, using the Dutch abbreviation for his Party for Freedom.

With nearly all votes counted, Wilders' party was forecast to win 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, more than double the 17 the party secured in the last election.

Wilders got a standing ovation, cake and sparkling wine when he met his lawmakers at the parliament building Thursday morning.

"Can you imagine it? 37 seats!" he said to cheers.

Other political parties were holding separate meetings to discuss the election's outcome before what is likely to be an arduous process of forming a new governing coalition begins Friday.

Wilders' election programme included calls for a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the European Union, a total halt to accepting asylum-seekers and migrant pushbacks at Dutch borders.

It also advocates the de-Islamization of the Netherlands. He says he wants no mosques or Islamic schools in the country, although he has been milder about Islam during this election campaign than in the past.

One of the most prominent Muslim organisations in the Netherlands said it had received emails expressing support since the election result.

That's reassuring, the Contact Group Muslims and Government said in a statement. In addition, Mr Wilders has said that he will become prime minister of all Dutch people, regardless of their religion, sex or colour. The Netherlands is a state governed by the rule of law and we trust that it is a tolerant country."

In a statement on its website, the Dutch branch of Amnesty International said: Yesterday human rights lost. A racist party won the Dutch elections.

Although known for his harsh rhetoric, Wilders began courting other right-wing and centrist parties by saying in a victory speech that whatever policies he pushes will be within the law and constitution.

His victory appeared based on his campaign to curtail migration -- the issue that caused the last governing coalition to quit in July -- and to tackle issues such as the Netherlands' cost-of-living crisis and housing shortages.

I think, to be honest, very many people are very focused on one particular problem, which is immigration," voter Norbert van Beelen said in The Hague on Thursday morning.

In his victory speech, Wilders said he wants to end what he called the asylum tsunami, referring to the migration issue that came to dominate his campaign.

The Dutch will be No. 1 again, Wilders said. The people must get their nation back.

Wilders, long a firebrand who lashed out at Islam, the EU and migrants, was in the past labelled a Dutch version of Donald Trump. His positions brought him close to power but never in it.

But to become prime minister of a country known for compromise politics, he must persuade other party leaders to work with him in a coalition government.

That will be tough as mainstream parties are reluctant to join forces with him and his party, but the size of his victory strengthens his hand in any negotiations.

Wilders called on other parties to constructively engage in coalition talks. Pieter Omtzigt, a former centrist Christian Democrat who built his own New Social Contract party in three months to take 20 seats, said he would always be open to talks.

Kate Parker of the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a written analysis of the election that Wilders' party will have to moderate its far-right policy stance if it is to attract support from Omtzigt's party and the centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, also known as VVD, of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The party that came next to Wilders' in the election was an alliance of the centre-left Labour Party and Green Left, which was forecast to win 25 seats. But its leader, Frans Timmermans, made clear that Wilders should not count on him as a partner.

The historic victory came one year after the win of Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party had roots steeped in nostalgia for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Meloni has since mellowed her stance on several issues and has become the acceptable face of the hard right in the EU.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who boasts of turning Hungary into an illiberal state and has similarly harsh stances on migration and EU institutions, was quick to congratulate Wilders. The winds of change are here! Congratulations, Orban said.

During the final weeks of his campaign, Wilders somewhat softened his stance and vowed that he would be a prime minister for all Dutch people, so much so that he gained the moniker Geert Milders.

The election was called after the fourth and final coalition of Rutte, who resigned in July failed to agree on measures to rein in migration. He has been in office for 13 years, making him the Netherlands' longest-serving leader, and plans to step down once a new coalition government is formed.

Rutte was replaced as the head of VVD by Dilan Yesilgz-Zegerius, a former refugee from Turkey who could have become the country's first female prime minister had her party won the most votes. Instead, it was forecast to lose 10 seats to end up with 24.

The result is the latest in a series of elections that is altering the European political landscape. From Slovakia and Spain, to Germany and Poland, populist and hard-right parties triumphed in some EU member nations and faltered in others.

In The Hague on Thursday, Dutch voter Barbara Belder said that Wilders' victory is a very clear sign that the Netherlands wants something different.

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp