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Wilders vanquished, but is populism really at bay?

Dutch Politics
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Best of enemies: Geert Wilders (L) and Mark Rutte meet with other party leaders on March 16 in the Hague.
Carl Court/Getty Images
Best of enemies: Geert Wilders (L) and Mark Rutte meet with other party leaders on March 16 in the Hague.
C risis, what crisis? Pro-EU governments breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday evening when an exit poll showed Mark Rutte, the Netherlands’ Liberal prime minister, had trounced far-right leader Geert Wilders in an election billed as an acid test on the continent’s rising nationalism. 
By the early hours of the morning it was clear Mr. Wilders - whose Islam bashing, rage against the EU and bleached blond hair transformed Dutch politics into an international spectacle - had fallen even further short of his expectations.
“We are extremely happy about the election results in the #Netherlands! A clear pro-European signal!” tweeted Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister. François Hollande, the outgoing French president, described the result as a “clear victory against extremism”. Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s prime minister, toasted that the “anti-EU right has lost the elections”.
Mr. Rutte had trailed for most of the campaign but emerged the clear winner with 33 seats out of a total 150, 13 ahead of Mr. Wilders’ Party for Freedom. He is all but certain to remain in office, but at the head of a very different coalition. The Labour Party was eviscerated, collapsing from 38 seats to nine, mirroring the parlous state of social democratic parties in the UK, Spain and elsewhere.
Green Left, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and liberal D66 all performed strongly and are likely to form the rest of Mr. Rutte’s government, though talks may be complicated by differences over taxation, employment and environmental policies.
Pro-Europeans may be sounding the all clear too soon. Overall, the main centre-right and centre-left parties hemorrhaged seats, while Mr. Wilders gained five and almost doubled his vote tally.
Mr. Rutte aped his nationalist rhetoric, telling immigrants to “behave normally, or go away” and barring Turkish ministers from campaigning in the Netherlands over the weekend. Rich and with a proud tradition for tolerance, the country is an unlikely place to incubate the extreme right.
“Relatively limited losses for Rutte and the increase in support for the CDA should be seen as the result of these two centrist parties veering to the right on key issues such as Europe and migration,” said Carsten Nickel and Ruud Wassen of Teneo Intelligence, a research group. “It therefore remains true that far-right parties do not have to win elections: they dominate the political agenda by luring the centre-right towards the rightist fringes.”
All eyes now turn to France, whose presidential election is shaping into a showdown between the isolationist instincts of Marine Le Pen and the globe-trotting europhilia of Emmanuel Macron.
Joe Wallace
The World Weekly
16 March 2017 - last edited 16 March 2017
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