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Far-right leader set to come first in Dutch elections, exit polls say

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Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders is on course to win the most votes in parliamentary elections on Wednesday that were dominated by debate around rising immigration in the Netherlands.

Wilders’ Freedom party is projected to win 35 seats, doubling its total, followed by a left-wing alliance led by the EU’s former climate chief Frans Timmermans with 26, and then the Liberal VVD with 23, according to an exit poll.

The poll by Ipsos for broadcaster NPO has proved to be a reliable guide in past elections to the final results, which are expected on Thursday morning.

Wilders’ victory, if confirmed, will send shockwaves through the EU, which has been struggling to absorb a fresh wave of migrants from Africa and Asia.

He also wants a referendum on leaving the EU.

But Wilders, an anti-Islam campaigner who has vowed to ban the Koran and mosques, will struggle to find coalition partners to form a government that can amass a majority in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, the leader of the VVD, said she would not support Wilders as prime minister. She arrived in the Netherlands as a child from Turkey, has pledged to cut immigration and crime, and to boost economic growth.

Centre-right newcomer Pieter Omtzigt, a former Christian Democrat who formed his New Social Contract party only in August, has also ruled out serving in a cabinet with Wilders. NSC is forecast to win 20 seats.

There were 26 parties contesting elections and the NPO poll found 16 would enter parliament. Analysts say whoever wins will require at least three other parties to govern — a prospect that could extend talks to form a government for months, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte staying in a caretaker capacity.

His ruling coalition collapsed in July over plans to try to limit immigration by making it harder for asylum seekers to be joined by family members.

The election campaign was dominated by migration, a housing crisis squeezing out young people and lower-income families, and environmental restrictions on farming in the densely packed country of 18mn.

Yeşilgöz-Zegerius said the country could not cope with the volume of arrivals. Net migration hit more than 220,000 in 2022, a tenfold increase in 20 years.

Omtzigt has suggested cutting annual numbers to 50,000, including those from the EU who have a right to work anywhere in the bloc. Wilders takes an even tougher line but has dropped his anti-Islam rhetoric in recent days.

Wilders still lives in a safe house and is guarded round the clock because of death threats.

A late surge for Wilders prompted a similar rise for Timmermans as leftwing voters turned out to try to thwart a rightwing government. The former EU commissioner leads a combined Labour and Green party, which increased its presence by nine seats, according to the poll.

However, he would also find it hard to form a government, as his closest ally, the progressive, liberal D66 group, is set to win only 10 seats.

The Dutch system has no minimum threshold to enter parliament, so there is a rich array of factions, from the Party for the Animals to 50 Plus, representing pensioners.

Read more on the Dutch election

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