The Dutch political establishment appeared Wednesday to fend off a challenge from anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders, according to initial vote counts, a victory in a closely watched national election that heartened centrist leaders across Europe who are fearful of populist upsets in their own nations.
The result was embraced by other leaders inside and outside the Netherlands as a major blow to anti-immigrant populism, breaking a streak of disruption that started with the Brexit vote and continued with the election of Donald Trump, a skeptic of European integration. Instead, as the Netherlands’ famed tulip season gets underway, Prime Minister Mark Rutte will remain in office as he tries to form a coalition.
The vote in the prosperous trading nation was seen as a bellwether for France and Germany, which head to the polls in the coming months and have also been shaken by fierce anti-immigrant sentiment.
Wilders nose-dived in recent weeks after topping opinion polls for most of the past 18 months, as Dutch voters appeared to turn away from an election message that described some Moroccans as “scum” and called for banning the Koran and shuttering mosques.
Wednesday is “an evening where the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said no to the wrong kind of populism,” Rutte told a cheering crowd in The Hague. He said he had already spoken to other European leaders to accept their congratulations.
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