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article imageDutch PM widens poll win over second-place far-right

By AFP     Mar 16, 2017 in Politics

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Thursday strengthened his election win over rival anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, as with almost all votes counted his party was credited with 33 seats.

Wilders celebrated too however as his far-right Freedom Party looked set to emerge the second largest in the 150-seat parliament, with a total of 20 MPs.

According to Dutch news agency ANP, with some 97 percent of votes counted, Rutte's Liberal VVD party had moved ahead from the exit polls issued in the immediate hours after Wednesday's ballot.

His win was eight seats down from the 2012 polls when his party won 41 seats.

But it will put Rutte in pole position to form the next coalition government, with party leaders set to get down to talks soon.

Wilders also boasted of his party's success as he has added five seats since the 2012 elections.

"We were the 3rd largest party of the Netherlands. Now we are the 2nd largest party. Next time we will be nr. 1!" he tweeted.

Earlier predictions had the PVV sharing second place with the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Democracy party D66.

But the ANP calculated that they were both just pushed into joint third behind Wilders with 19 seats.

The burning question was now what would be the fate of Wilders and his PVV.

Wilders said early Thursday he was prepared to work with the new government if asked, but Rutte along with most party leaders have vowed to snub him. That would leave Wilders as the largest party in opposition.

The CDA and D66, long-established Dutch parties which have often been in government, would be natural partners for Rutte to form a centre-right coalition.

The three parties combined would have a total of 71 seats and would need a fourth to reach the 76 needed for a majority.

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