, THE HAGUE, Sept 13 – Dutch voters overwhelmingly backed pro-European pragmatism Wednesday, electing centrist parties committed to debt-busting austerity and rejecting the anti-EU extremism of Geert Wilders.
A sample ballot count said the ruling Liberals won the election with four more seats than centre-left rivals Labour, while Wilders’ anti-Islam PVV party suffered a humiliating defeat after changing tack to attack Brussels.
“This is approximately what we’re going to see in parliament,” said a presenter on NOS state television, announcing the ANP prediction based on an extrapolation of 13.6 percent of votes counted.
If confirmed the result would mean that current premier Mark Rutte would be called upon to form a new coalition that would keep the eurozone’s fifth largest economy closely allied with European economic powerhouse Germany.
Rutte’s VVD would win 41 seats in the new parliament and the PvdA Labour party of former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom 37 seats, far exceeding pre-poll predictions, according to a sample count by national news agency ANP.
That means that if the two main parties agreed an alliance, the VVD and Labour would have 78 seats, a thin majority in the 150-seat parliament meaning that a coalition would require more partners.
The more hard-left Socialist Party was set to win 16 seats and Wilders’ PVV just 15 seats, a sharp drop from its previous tally of 24, the partial count said.
Rutte pushed his way through the throng at the VVD victory party in The Hague, insisting the result was too early to call.
“We have to see what happens… The PvdA might still win,” he said, neverthless hailing the result as the best in his party’s history.
“There’s still suspense over who will be the biggest so I will come back later tonight because I want to be sure.”
“This is a big encouragement for the agenda that we have put forward to take this country strongly out of the crisis and to go forward with a growing Dutch economy,” he said.
Samsom received a raucous welcome at Amsterdam’s Paradiso theatre where he was greeted by hundreds of his supporters.
“The Netherlands needs a stable government as soon as possible,” Samsom said. “We would like to participate in that government, as long as tonight’s results can be faithfully represented in the new cabinet’s programme
Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal told AFP at the VVD party that the failure by former ally Wilders showed the Dutch were not extremist.
“It s very explicit that the Dutch don’t like a very extreme European stand. We’re a member of the EU and we should stick to it for many years to come,” he said.
Wilders, who brought down the last government in April after refusing to approve an austerity-driven budget, is not expected to play any role in this coalition.
“I’d rather have stood in front of you with good news,” a visibly shaken Wilders told his party’s gathering in The Hague, wiping a solitary tear from his eye. “In Brussels they are having a party… That’s a pity.”
“Tomorrow we will lick our wounds,” he said. “This is not the end of the struggle.”
The PVV vowed to pull out of the euro and the EU itself if they came to power. But many Dutch voters and the political mainstream decided that Wilders was simply unreliable.
Fiscally prudent Rutte’s government has been allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Samsom’s calls for stimulus echo those of France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande.
Both parties had lashed out at the EU status quo during campaigning, but the Dutch export-based economy could not afford to call into question membership in the bloc, where it sends 75 percent of its exports.
Many Dutch citizens are fed up with bailing out indebted eurozone members while swallowing their own budget cuts, but voters had nevertheless been expected to shun anti-EU parties for the mainstream.
“The results show a hard knock against eurosceptic parties. Whatever the outcome, the Netherlands will have a government that that will return smack to the centre of Europe,” Thys Berman, leader of the PvdA’s delegation at the European Parliament told AFP.
Final results will be announced by the Electoral Commission on Thursday, but it will take weeks if not months for a new coalition to be formed.