SCHEVENINGEN, Netherlands — The anti-Islam, euroskeptic radical Geert Wilders is projected to be the shock winner of the Dutch election.
In a dramatic result that will stun European politics, his Freedom Party (PVV) is set to win around 35 of the 150 seats in parliament — more than double the number it secured in the 2021 election, according to exit polls.
Frans Timmermans’ Labour-Green alliance is forecast to take second place, winning 25 seats — a big jump from its current 17. Dilan Yeşilgöz, outgoing premier Mark Rutte’s successor as head of the center-right VVD, suffered heavy losses and is on course to take 24 seats, 10 fewer than before, according to the updated exit poll by Ipsos for national broadcaster NOS.
A win for Wilders will put the Netherlands on track — potentially — for a dramatic shift in direction, after Rutte’s four consecutive centrist governments. The question now, though, is whether any other parties are willing to join Wilders to form a coalition. Despite emerging as the largest party, he will struggle to find an overall majority in parliament.
To the soundtrack of Rocky, Eye of the Tiger, Wilders greeted his supporters in a cafe on the Dutch coast with a big smile. “The voters have spoken tonight and they have said that they are fed up,” he said. “We are going to make sure that Dutch voters will be put first again.”
The party wants to work toward curbing the “asylum tsunami,” putting more money in people’s wallets and better security, Wilders added.
He extended a hand to other parties, declaring it is time to work together to come up with solutions. Wilders even suggested he would be willing to compromise on his anti-Muslim ideals for the sake of entering government. “I understand very well that parties do not want to be in a government with a party that wants unconstitutional measures,” he said. “We are not going to talk about mosques, Qurans and Islamic schools.”
Wilders’ anti-Islam rhetoric was a clear part of the PVV’s program for government. The party proposed to ban mosques and the Quran, and forbid Islamic headscarves in government buildings. Wilders is also a hardline euroskeptic, who has called for a so-called “Nexit” referendum on leaving the EU. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was quick to congratulate Wilders, writing on X: “The winds of change are here!”
“This exit poll is historic; it is the biggest shift we have ever seen in the Netherlands,” political scientist Tom van der Meer told national broadcaster NOS.
According to Van der Meer, three things might explain Wilders’ unexpected win. “First, we have had a center cabinet for 11 years. In response to that, voters mainly went to the flanks. Second, migration was a big theme and voters quickly think of the PVV when they think of that issue. Lastly, VVD leader Yeşilgöz opened the door to the PVV as a coalition partner. In the Netherlands, people have long been looking for a party that is more outspoken than the VVD, but can govern. Now that door to the PVV is open, they have found it.”
Even though Wilders has won the most seats, it is unlikely that he will end up as prime minister.
Yeşilgöz said on Tuesday that she ruled out supporting Wilders as prime minister if he won the largest share. And Pieter Omtzigt, whose newly formed party is projected to win 20 seats, has previously ruled out joining forces with Wilders at all, saying his anti-Islam policies go against freedoms of expression and religion that are enshrined in the Dutch constitution. Timmermans has also set himself firmly against supporting Wilders.
Wilders’ PVV held its election campaign party in a small café in Scheveningen, a beach town next to The Hague. The cramped room erupted in cheering when the first exit poll was announced.
The result was a big shock for PVV officials, too. The venue was only booked three days ago after Wilders made an unexpected surge in the polls.
The green-left alliance led by Timmermans gathered to watch the results at a large venue in the Westerpark in Amsterdam.
Loud cheers filled the main room after the VVD’s losses were announced, along with the alliance’s own projected gains.
But afterwards, the room was abuzz with talk of Wilders’ win.
Hold each other tight
The Greens’ Jesse Klaver, who leads the faction in the Dutch parliament, was the first to climb onto the stage in Amsterdam, to loud applause. He said he was “shocked” by the result. “We always defended the rule of law and this will be more needed than ever in the future.”
Timmermans spoke after Klaver. While he congratulated Wilders on his win, Timmermans took aim at his far-right PVV, vowing he will “never enter into a coalition with a party that excludes Dutchmen.”
Timmermans began his speech by asking his audience to hold each other tight, because “in the Netherlands we never let go of anyone.” He added: “Let’s make a fist against exclusion.”
He admitted he was disappointed by the outcome, and “also our own result.” Timmermans added: “Now is the time when we are going to defend democracy.”
Almost one hour after the first exit poll dropped, Yeşilgöz spoke to her party colleagues, admitting the result had not been what they expected.
“I think there are big lessons for politicians in this. People were not listened to enough, and not enough workable solutions were offered. The lead is not with us now. But I am incredibly proud of the party and of all of you,” she said.
She ended the short speech thanking her team and supporters, and left the stage to the sound of Dua Lipa’s Dance the Night followed by Avicii’s Wake me Up.
Omtzigt responded enthusiastically to the “great results” of the first exit poll. Speaking to his supporters, he said he wanted to be in the next government, but acknowledged that it will not be “easy,” and will require politicians to step over their own shadow. “The Netherlands will have to be governed and we are available for that.” Omtzigt had previously ruled out joining forces with Wilders. His comments did not specify which parties he’d be willing to work with.
Pieter Haeck reported from Amsterdam and Jakob Hanke Vela reported from The Hague.
This story is being updated.
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