Berlin - European leaders have reacted positively to Mark Rutte's victory in Dutch parliamentary elections, while also commenting on the political fate of the far-right leader Geert Wilders.
With 95 per cent of the votes counted, Rutte's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) was on 33 seats in the 150-member lower house, well ahead of populist leader Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) on 20 seats. Two parties were in third place on 19 seats - the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the centrist D66.
Behind them were the Socialist Party (SP) and Green Left, both on 14. Turnout was high at a predicted 79 per cent, up from 75 per cent in 2012.
Blow against "the wrong sort of populism"
"After Brexit and after the elections in the United States, a halt to the wrong sort of populism has been called," Rutte told cheering VVD supporters after the results of the exit poll had been announced. Wilders congratulated Rutte, but also said "Rutte is not rid of me by any means." He thanked his supporters and celebrated his party's forecast win of 19 seats, a gain of five from 2012.
"We are one of the winners of this vote, but of course I would have liked to have been the leading party," the PVV leader told reporters, adding that he had hoped to win 30 seats.
The big loser was Rutte's coalition partner, the Labour Party (PvdA), which is on track to suffer one of the worst results in its history, predicted to pick up only 9 seats, down from 38 seats in 2012.
Rutte's VVD saw a sharp decline in its support from 41 seats five years ago, despite guiding the country through the worst of the economic crisis. During the campaign, even opposition parties acknowledged that the economy was back on track.
"A vote for Europe"
A spokesman for the German chancellor said that Angela Merkel had congratulated Mark Rutte on the phone.
"I look forward to continuing cooperation as friends, neighbours and Europeans," she told Rutte, according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert who quoted her on Twitter.
A spokesman for the European Commission President said that Jean-Claude Juncker had also called Rutte to offer his congratulations.
"A vote for Europe, a vote against extremists," Juncker was quoted as telling Rutte in the call.
But many of the comments made by European leaders focused more on the failure of populist leader Geert Wilders to gain the most seats, after his populist PVV party came in second in the vote.
"Congratulations to the Dutch for stemming the rise of the far right," France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tweeted.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni also took to social media saying, "No #Nexit. The anti-EU right has lost the elections in the Netherlands."
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon needed just one word to give her verdict on the news that exit polls were showing that Wilders had been defeated.
"Good," she said, in her short retweet.