Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right party remains the biggest in parliament after an election on Wednesday with 31 of the 150 seats, two exit polls show, roundly beating the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders.
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Geert Wilders' Party of Freedom was tied with two other parties – the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal and D66, a left-wing party – at 19 seats a piece in the 150-seat house of representatives.
Prime Minister Rutte's VVD party won 31 seats, according to the poll based on interviews with voters.
Wilder's PVV is projected to increase its parliamentary seats to 19 from the 15 won in 2012, reacted to the exit polls with a tweet saying, "PVV-voters thank you! We won seats! First win is in! And Rutte hasn't seen the last of me!!"
The result is well down from his 2010 high of 24 seats while support for the two most pro-EU parties, the progressive D66 and GreenLeft, were way up. PvdA, the Labor Party, suffered the largest defeat, dropping from 38 seats to only 9.
The turnout is forecast at 82 percent vs. 74.6 percent in the last election in 2012, according to the new TV channel NOS.
If confirmed, the results will be a relief to mainstream parties across Europe, particularly in France and Germany, where right-wing nationalists are set to make a big impact in elections both will hold this year.
"It appears that the VVD will be the biggest party in the Netherlands for the third time in a row," a beaming Rutte told supporters at a post-election party in the Hague. "It is also an evening in which the Netherlands after Brexit, after the American elections said stop to the wrong kind of populism."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: "The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!..... Congratulations on this great result."
Rutte got a last-minute boost from a diplomatic row with Turkey, which allowed him to take a well-timed tough line on a majority Muslim country during an election campaign in which immigration and integration have been key issues.
But while Rutte averted what in the early stages of the campaign looked like a possible victory for Wilders, years of austerity pushed down his share of the vote. His junior partner in the outgoing coalition, Labour, suffered its worst ever result, winning just nine seats, down from 38 last time.
That means it may take weeks or months for Rutte to negotiate a ruling coalition.
Dutch proportional representation means up to 15 parties could win a parliamentary seat and it could take months for Rutte to build a coalition.
Rutte had called the vote a European quarter-final, before a French semi-final and German final, and warned voters that a Wilders victory would be "the wrong sort of populism winning the day."
The far-right Marine Le Pen is set to make the second-round run-off of France's presidential election in May. In September's federal election in Germany, the right-wing, eurosceptic Alternative for Germany is likely to enter the national parliament for the first time.
Here are the full results of the first exit poll by Ipsos:
VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy): 31 seats
PVV (Party for Freedom): 19 seats
CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal): 19 seats
D66 (Democrats 66): 19 seats
GroenLinks (GreenLeft): 16 seats
SP (Socialist Party): 14 seats
PvdA (Labor Party): 9 seats
ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion): 6 seats
Partij voor de Dieren (Party for the Animals): 5 seats
50Plus: 4 seats
Denk (Think): 3 seats
SGP (Reformed Political Party): 3 seats
Forum voor Democratie (Forum for Democracy): 2 seats