Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is on track to notch up a dominating parliamentary election victory over anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders.
The Netherlands’ main exit poll suggests Mr Rutte’s party won 31 seats in the 150-place legislature, 12 more than Mr Wilders’ party, which shared second place with two other parties.
“I am so proud at what has happened and happy that we have been given the trust again” by voters, said Tamara van Ark, campaign leader of Mr Rutte’s centre-right VVD party.
With France and Germany facing elections in the months ahead, Mr Rutte hoped to slow the momentum of what he called the “wrong sort of populism” after last’s year British vote to leave the European Union and the election of US President Donald Trump.
“This is a chance for a big democracy like the Netherlands to make a point to stop this toppling over of the domino stones” of populism, Mr Rutte said after voting.
Mr Wilders had insisted that whatever the result of Wednesday’s election, the kind of populist politics he and others in Europe represent are not going away.
“Rutte has not seen the back of me!!” Wilders said in a Twitter reaction.
Under brilliant skies, the Dutch went to vote in huge numbers, with turnout estimated to have reached 82%.
In a subplot of the elections, the Ipsos exit poll had the Green Left party registering a historic victory, turning it into the largest party on the left wing of Dutch politics for the first time.
The Greens leapt from four seats to 16 in parliament after a strong campaign by charismatic leader Jesse Klaver, who invites comparisons to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to the exit poll.
“This is a fantastic result for us, a historic victory,” said Green Left chairwoman Marjolein Meijer.
It remains to be seen if the 30-year-old Mr Klaver will take his party into the next ruling coalition, which looks likely to be dominated by Mr Rutte’s VVD and other right-leaning parties.
The Dutch Labour Party of Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem appeared to have been punished by voters in the election, plunging from 38 seats at the last election to just nine, according to the exit poll.
Mr Rutte had framed the election as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of the nation’s economic recovery and casting Mr Wilders as a far-right radical who was unprepared to make tough decisions.
The campaign’s final days were overshadowed by a diplomatic crisis between the Dutch and Turkish governments.
It erupted over the refusal of the Netherlands to let two Turkish government ministers address rallies about a referendum next month that could give Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers.
The crisis nevertheless gave Mr Rutte an opportunity to refuse to bow to foreign pressure, a stance with widespread backing in the nation.
“It is my task to keep the nation safe and stable and deal with these kinds of people,” Mr Rutte said.