Source: News Bharati English17 Mar 2017 17:16:15

Amsterdam, Mar 17: In an election watched anxiously by centrists all across Europe, the incumbent Dutch establishment held strong despite a growing wave of populism.

The center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte after initial opinion polls of an election with a massive turnout of 82% looks on course for victory in the country’s biggest election in a generation.

Dutch voters turned out en masse Wednesday to elect their new government following a tumultuous campaign in which anti-Islam and anti-EU Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom appeared to make significant gains, prompting concerns over a continued rise of populist sentiment across Europe.

However, current indicators suggest that Rutte’s party, People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) will secure the biggest share of the vote and sit at the helm of the country’s new government. “It appears that the VVD will be the biggest party in the Netherlands for the third time in a row,” said a beaming Rutte amidst cheering supporters in The Hague. “Tonight we’ll celebrate a little.”

At current count, Rutte’s VVD party will take 33 of the 150 available parliamentary seats. Wilders' PVV is set for 20 seats, the Christian Democratic Appeal and the centrists, Democrats 66, look on track to secure 19, while the Socialist Party is expected to take 14. The Labour Party appears to have suffered significant losses since joining a coalition with the VVD in the last election and is likely to secure nine seats.

The Dutch parliament requires a majority of 76 seats to form a government, so Rutte will need to strike a coalition deal with at least three other parties. Given that he has ruled out working with Wilders, it is likely that this could include the CDA and the D66 and one or smaller parties.

The incumbent PM’s party, VVD, is a centre-right, conservative liberal party, with an emphasis on private enterprise, the free market, fiscal responsibility, democracy, international co-operation and a welfare state, while Gert Wilder’s Party for Freedom is perceived as a far-right, nationalistic party because of their anti-Islamic and anti-EU speeches and ideologies.

European leaders breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday as the Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte was predicted to be voted back into power by the pragmatic Dutch, even though the far-right shot up into second place. “A vote for Europe, a vote against extremists,” Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, said in a Tweet.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission has also congratulated Rutte on his clear victory.

After the Brexit blow and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, Wednesday’s general elections were being closely watched across the continent seeking to assimilate the effect of the rise of populism. “The fascination for the rise of right-wing populism in Europe is over,” said Hajo Funke, from the Otto Suhr political sciences institute, at Berlin’s Free University. “They see that the right-wing populism, as good as it was perceived against migrants, can destroy countries’ economies and trigger a chain-reaction of destruction in Europe.”

Wednesday's election was seen by Europe as a litmus test for other upcoming elections across the continent, specifically in influential nations such as France and Germany. Politicians from both the countries were quick to congratulate the Netherlands for staving off populist policies that overturned the U.S. election and the U.K.’s EU referendum.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, Peter Altmaier took to Twitter to congratulate PM Rutte and other elected members.