Dutch populists falter in 'most important election ever'

Exit polling shows far-right PVV in fourth place in the Netherlands' election for the European Parliament – a race that party leader Geert Wilders had played up as a referendum on the EU.

Michael Kooren/Reuters
Far-right politician Geert Wilders of the anti-immigration Dutch Freedom (PVV) Party (l.) and PVV candidate Marcel De Graaff react at a PVV rally after the European Parliament elections in the Hague Thursday. Exit polls show the PVV in fourth place in the elections, a surprisingly low result after earlier polls showed them as likely winners.

Geert Wilders, the Dutch populist, right-wing, anti-EU politician, had called it “the most important election ever.” But yesterday's European elections in the Netherlands appear to be a major letdown for his Party for Freedom (PVV).

Despite pre-election polls with PVV in the running to be the Netherlands' largest party in the European Parliament, the far-right group received just 12.2 percent of Dutch votes, only enough for fourth place, according to an exit poll by research bureau Ipsos. If accurate, the party would occupy only three of the Netherlands' 26 seats in Brussels, down from five.

The official results will not be released until Sunday, 11 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET), after all member states of the European Union have voted – an attempt by the European Commission, the bloc's governing body, to keep the results in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, which also voted yesterday, from influencing results abroad. Today voters go to the polls in Ireland and the Czech Republic.

With only 26 seats for Dutch representatives in the 751-seat parliament, the margin of error in exit polls is significant. Mr. Wilders still could see better numbers in the official tallies than the exit poll results, which are based on self-reported votes.

Nevertheless, two other vote-watchers – a pollster and a news blog that independently used volunteers to listen to the public counting of the votes in polling stations – also indicate a loss for the PVV.

Wilders had hoped to provide a strong Euroskeptic voice in Brussels by working with other similarly minded parties, like the National Front in France and the FPO in Austria, to create their own political alliance in Europe. Such a group requires 25 members of the European Parliament from at least seven EU member states, and would open the door to better funding and other opportunities for its MEPs. But with the PVV's poor results, it is now up to his Euroskeptic colleagues to make up the shortage.

In a short speech to his supporters, Wilders blamed low voter turnout for the party's apparent poor showing, even though almost the same number of voters showed up in the last European elections, when his party secured 17 percent. Around 37 percent of the Dutch electorate got to the polls yesterday.

“By staying at home, many voters have proven their aversion and disinterest for the European Union,” Wilders said.

But the lead candidate for pro-European liberal-democrat party D66, Sophie in 't Veld, said on television that Dutch voters clearly don't want to leave the EU. “The message 'forward with Europe' has won support,” she said. D66 and the center-right Christian-Democrats were forecast as the biggest winners in the exit poll, with 15.6 and 15.2 percent respectively.

The Liberal party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be relatively satisfied with 12.3 percent, according to the exit poll, but its coalition partner Labor appears to have had one of the worst results in its history with 9.4 percent. The Socialist Party, which won 10 percent of the vote, is now the largest party on the left.

If the exit polls are accurate, it means a continuation of the fragmentation in Dutch politics, with 10 parties set to divide the 26 European seats among themselves.

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