How the Dutch fought back against the far right (and what it could cost them)
by Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Bryony Jones
Updated 3:13 PM ET, Thu March 16, 2017
Rotterdam, the Netherlands (CNN)The Dutch election was billed as a new dawn for far-right populism in Europe. But when it came to voting day, the public turned their backs on Geert Wilders and his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Polls throughout the campaign had suggested Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) was running neck-and-neck with conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Andre Krouwel, political scientist at the Free University Amsterdam and owner of the Election Compass website said that while a vocal minority who were "clearly angry at the whole system and then entire political elite" backed Wilders, the overwhelming majority voted to reject him.
"87% has said, 'We don't want this guy,'" Krouwel told CNN.
As Rutte's win became clear, he told cheering supporters of his VVD party that voters had taken an important stand against right-wing hatred.
"After Brexit, after the US election, we said 'stop it, stop it' to the wrong kind of populism."
But, has the populist far-right movement really been halted in the Netherlands? And, if so, at what cost?
Political scientist Krouwel said Dutch society has been left "deeply divided" following the election campaign.
"This is a very polarized result, people have abandoned the centrist parties."
The Labor party (PvdA) -- which had been in government with Rutte's VVD -- was punished by voters who appear to have switched their support to the GreenLeft and to smaller fringe parties.
With elections due in France next month and in Germany (and potentially Italy) before the end of the year, many had looked to the Netherlands for clues to whether the likes of French Front National leader Marine Le Pen could triumph as a populist wave swept the continent.
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As packed cafes in The Hague thrummed with election chatter on Thursday morning, Wilders' name could frequently be heard in the coffee-scented air. Given the result, is the far-right firebrand now a spent force, politically?
Wilders remained defiant while the votes were being counted, insisting he was "part of the winners," despite his PVV finishing a distant second.
"Rutte has not gotten rid of me yet," he declared.
Shift to the right
Though his PVV did not perform as well as expected, some say Wilders has already prompted other parties -- particularly the VVD -- to shift more to the right.
Simone Langelaan, an intern in The Hague, said the tone of the campaign -- in which the fervently anti-immigrant, anti-Islam pronouncements of Wilders took center stage -- had left her "really worried" for the country's future.
Simone Langelaan, 22, voted for the Greens.
"The Netherlands is a really tolerant place especially [in the] big cities -- there are so many people from other countries and they should have a fair chance to immigrate," she said.
"There is a stereotype of bad guys, Muslims, who are ... making trouble in the Netherlands, but there are also Dutch boys who are acting like that."
Student Manish Badal, from The Hague, said he had supported Wilders, despite coming from a family of immigrants himself.
"I was hoping that Wilders would get more votes than he got, because these people that mess up this whole country, their eyes would open up," he said.
"It would be like Trump. These people would pack their bags."
Manish Badal, 22, voted for Wilders' Freedom Party.
In Rotterdam, where families and friends were out enjoying the sunshine on Thursday, not many wanted to talk about the election result.
The vote between the ruling party VVD and Wilders' Freedom Party was tight in the Netherland's second largest city, with 16.4% of Rotterdam's voters supporting the VVD, while the PVV narrowly trailed behind at 16.1%.
Just off Coolsingel, a major street in the city center, 26-year-old marketing consultant Roelan Toussen told CNN he was pleased with the result, but he had considered voting for Wilders, because of his immigration policies. Ultimately he was persuaded to vote VVD because of Wilders' isolationist rhetoric.
He hopes a new government will implement strict new immigration policies.
"At some point we have to stop. I think it's a good moment to just take care of our own country and not make decisions together," he said.
"We are a small country and I'm proud of that ... I hope the VVD and Wilders can make decisions together instead of worrying about everything else."
Roelan Toussen, 26, voted for PM Mark Rutte's Freedom and Democracy Party.
The country's politicians certainly have their work cut out.
Rutte's VVD is the largest party in parliament, but it lost almost a quarter of its seats, making coalition talks more difficult.
In order to govern, Rutte needs to marshal together enough smaller parties to form a majority -- 76 seats in the 150-member chamber. That won't be easy, given that 13 of the 28 parties on the ballot look set to have won at least one seat.
Last time around, Rutte took 52 days to form a coalition -- positively speedy compared to the 208 days it took Dries Van Agt's Christian Democrats to reach a power-sharing deal in 1977 -- but experts and voters fear that discussions will nowbe far more protracted.
Rob de Wijk, director of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, said lessons had to be learned.
"Donot neglect those people who feel threatened by globalization and feel like they are the losers [from it] ... If you neglect these people then you are in trouble because big challenges lie ahead."
De Wijk said much depended on how Prime Minister Rutte handled challenging issues like radical Islam, terrorism, immigration and the economy.
"He clearly understands that if he doesn't do anything for this group of voters he will lose the next election," De Wijk said.
"The danger has been mitigated last night but it is not solved."