ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the reaction after far-right Geert Wilders secures a victory in the Dutch snap general election
Words by Hannah Ward-Glenton, ITV News Multimedia Producer
The far-right and anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders has upended Dutch politics after securing victory in the snap general election, with more than 99% of votes counted at the time of writing.
The result puts him in line to lead talks to form a new ruling coalition and become the country’s prime minister in what would be a huge shake-up to Dutch politics.
“Voters said 'we are sick of it. Sick to our stomachs'," a jubilant Wilders said, adding he was now on a mission to end the “asylum tsunami” referring to the migration issue that came to dominate the campaign.
National broadcaster NOS published data forecasting Wilders' Party for Freedom would win 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, more than double the 17 he won at the last general election in 2021.
Is "Nexit" on the cards?
Wilders' election programme included calls for a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the European Union, nicknamed "Nexit," a total halt to accepting asylum-seekers and migrant pushbacks at the Dutch borders.
“The Dutch will be No. 1 again,” Wilders said. “The people must get their nation back.”
Wilders' party advocates the “de-Islamisation” of the Netherlands, although the leader did soften his publicly-expressed views in the last weeks of his campaign.
He vowed he would be a prime minister for all Dutch people, and the moniker Geert “Milders” circulated on social media.
Previous nicknames for Wilders include "Dutch Donald Trump" thanks to his inflammatory political style and bright blonde hairstyle.
Who is 'the King of Islamphobia' Geert Wilders? ITV News' George Hancorn explains
What has fuelled this outsider's rise to the top?
Wilders has been on the fringes of Dutch politics for decades, having held a parliamentary seat since 1998 and going on to found the Party for Freedom in 2006.
He is best-known for his anti-Islam and anti-immigration beliefs, including the comment: "I don't hate Muslims. I hate Islam," which he said during a conference speech at The Hague in 2008.
In 2009 Wilders was widely reported as having said: "I want to be prime minister... At some point it’s going to happen and then it will be a big honour."
At the time Wilders' party had nine parliamentary seats but after a turbulent 14 years, which included Brexit and rising immigration in the Netherlands, plus the highly fragmented nature of Dutch politics which allows small parties to thrive in ways they may not elsewhere, Wilders' prediction came true.
Wilders' victory came within two months of Slovakia electing populist Robert Fico as prime minister, and is a continuation of increasing numbers of European nations moving towards right-wing politics.
In October last year Italy elected its current premier Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy’s roots were steeped in nostalgia for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Meloni has since mellowed her stance on several issues and, as Italy's premier, has become the acceptable face of the hard right in the EU.
Other right-leaning leaders across Europe were quick to congratulate Wilders on his victory.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has previously likened liberalism to a "virus" and also has harsh stances on migration and EU institutions, said: “The winds of change are here! Congratulations.”
Meanwhile France's Marine Le Pen, leader of far-right National Front party, congratulated Wilders and his party for their "spectacular performance," which she says "confirms the growing attachment to the defence of national identities".
Wednesday's election was called after the fourth and final coalition of outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte resigned in July after failing to agree to measures to rein in migration.
Rutte was replaced as head of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy by Dilan Yeşilgöz-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 11 seats to end up with 23.
What happens next?
Wilders first has to form a coalition government before he can take the reins of power, and has already called on other parties to constructively engage in coalition talks.
The closest party to Wilders' Party for Freedom was an alliance of the centre-left Labour Party and Green Left, which was predicted to win 26 seats.
That will be tough as mainstream parties are reluctant to join forces with him and his Party for Freedom, but the size of his victory strengthens his hand in any negotiations.
Despite his harsh rhetoric, he was already courting other right parties by saying that whatever he would do “it would be within the law and constitution”.
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