Anti-Islam populist Wilders shocks Europe as he cruises to a landslide victory in the Netherlands

As a result, he will lead negotiations to form a new governing coalition and become the country’s first hard-right prime minister at a time of political upheaval across much of the continent.

A poll released by national broadcaster NOS showed Wilders’ Party for Independence won 35 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, more than double the 17 seats he won in the last election. The final official results were expected only on Thursday.

“I had to pinch my hand,” said a jubilant Wilders.

Wilders’ election plan includes calls for a referendum on the Netherlands’ exit from the European Union, a complete halt to accepting asylum seekers and migrant pushbacks at Dutch borders.

It supports the “Islamization” of the Netherlands, although he has been much less vocal about Islam during this election campaign than in the past.

“Voters are saying, ‘We’re sick. We’re sick to our stomachs,'” he said, adding that he is now working to end the “asylum tsunami,” referring to the immigration issue that has come to dominate his campaign.

“The Dutch will be number 1 again,” Wilders added. “People want their country back.”

That will be difficult as mainstream parties are reluctant to ally with him and his party, but the scale of his success strengthens his hand in any negotiations.

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Wilders called on other parties to engage constructively in coalition talks. Peeter Omtzigt, a former centrist Christian Democrat who built his own new Social Contract party in three months to secure an estimated 20 seats, said he was always open to negotiations.

The closest party to Wilders’ party is a coalition of the center-left Labor Party and the Green Left, which is predicted to win 26 seats. But its leader, Franz Timmermans, made it clear that Wilders should not count on an alliance with him.

“We will never ally with parties that pretend that asylum seekers are the source of all suffering,” Timmermans said.

“We will see more in the coming days and weeks how difficult, how important, how essential it is to stand up for a Netherlands that excludes no one, to stand up for a Netherlands that embraces everyone. Netherlands, we don’t see what your background is, what your religion is, what color your skin is, ” he added.

Despite his harsh rhetoric, Wilders was already on the same page as other right-wing and center-right parties, saying that whatever he does “will be within the law and the constitution.”

The historic victory came a year after the victory of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose roots in the Brothers of Italy were steeped in nostalgia for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Meloni softened his stance on many issues and became the acceptable face of the hard right in the EU.

Wilders has long lashed out at Islam, the European Union and immigrants — stances that have brought him close to power but never in a nation known for conciliatory politics.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who boasts of turning Hungary into a “liberal” country and also has hard-line stances on migration and EU institutions, congratulated Wilders. “The winds of change are here! Congratulations,” Orban said.

In the final weeks of his campaign, Wilders softened his stance somewhat and vowed to be a prime minister for all Dutch people, hence his nickname Geert “Milders”.

The poll was released after polling in the general election was over. It can have a margin of error of up to three places, but is generally accurate to within one or two places, said pollster Ipsos.

Outgoing prime minister Mark Rudd’s fourth and final coalition collapsed in July after failing to agree measures to curb migration.

Rutte was replaced by Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, a refugee from Turkey who could have become the country’s first female prime minister had her party won more votes. Instead, it was projected to lose 11 places to finish at 23.

The election was called a neck-and-neck race, but in the end Wilders easily defeated all his opponents.

The latest result of a series of elections is changing the European political landscape. From Slovakia and Spain, to Germany and Poland, populist and hard-right parties have won in some EU member states and faltered in others.

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Casert report from Brussels.

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