With his broadest smile in months, the last administration’s prime minister Mark Rutte welcomed the results making his VVD the largest party.
In his speech to a cheering VVD rally in the The Hague, Rutte said: ‘This was a festival for democracy today, with rows of people at voting stations. It was also an evening where the Netherlands, after Brexit and the American elections, said ‘whoa’ to the wrong sort of populism. Now it’s important to bring our country together and form a stable government.’
He added that his campaign had two goals: to ensure that everyone in the Netherlands was personally feeling the recent economic uptick and to stop ‘the wrong kind of populism’ gaining power. ‘We can be happy that it didn’t,’ he added, smiling, even though his party had lost 8 seats. He added that he had already received congratulations from European leaders – although Turkey, he told NOS Radio 1, hadn’t called yet.
Geert Wilders, head of the far-Right PVV, immediately sent out a text congratulating his supporters on a five-seat gain, taking his total to 20 and making him the new second-largest party. But this was far short of the polling numbers he had been achieving, which had attracted international press interest and led Rutte to issue stern warnings of a ‘domino effect’ across Europe and ‘chaos’ under Wilders.
‘PVV-voters, thank you!’ went his text. ‘We have won seats! The first win is in. And Rutte is far from rid of me!!’ He later told the NOS and television cameras: ‘I would rather, of course, have been the largest party…but we aren’t a party that has lost, but that has apparently won four or five seats. That’s a result to be proud of.’
He added that he did not understand Rutte’s warnings about ‘the wrong sort of populism’ and rejected the description of ‘populist’. ‘I want to be part of government but if that doesn’t happen, we still have more MPs in a growing party,’ he added, responding to the other major parties’ pre-election pledges not to work with him.
The biggest loss in an election campaign ever was strongly felt by Lodewijk Asscher, leader of the Labour party, which dropped 29 seats to just nine and, probably, a place out of government.
‘This is a bitter evening for the Labour party,’ he told his party rally. ‘The result is unbelievably disappointing. A lot of voters have chosen to give their trust to another party, and we have to respect that.’
He stressed that the country has come better out of Labour’s coalition with the VVD in the past five years. ‘We will lick our wounds, support each other and undoubtedly will be able to laugh again, sooner than you think. Social democracy will come back and we’ll start building it today.’
Sybrand Buma and Alexander Pechtold
Sybrand Buma, head of the CDA Christian democrats, who won six seats to be joint third on 19, said: ‘Nobody could have dreamed that the CDA would have such a good result. I am very proud. After this evening, the CDA will be one of the winners of the elections.’
But he added: ‘Tomorrow, the big task awaits. Because the Netherlands has concerns, and because the Dutch want an answer to these concerns. The CDA will rise to the challenge.’
Alexander Pechtold, head of the D66 liberal democrats, who gained seven seats to be on 19, said: ‘This is a fantastic result. Not just for D66 or for the Netherlands. There was so much international press attention after Brexit, Trump, and they looked to the Netherlands, before French and German elections, for a signal on what the populists would do. In the Netherlands that noise was stopped.’
Jesse Klaver, the telegenic head of the GroenLinks green left party, didn’t forget to thank his wife when celebrating a win of 10 seats, taking them to 14 and making them the largest gainer in the electoral fragmentation.
He told a rally in Amsterdam: ‘We led an extraordinary campaign, and I’m very happy with the result. I think more young people than ever went to the polls. We won more seats than we’ve ever had in the parliament. It’s a historic evening.’
Calling for respect for the other parties, and saying they will now have to work together, he added: ‘The [international] journalists all asked: “will populism break through in the Netherlands?” The answer is no. Populism didn’t break through.’
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