With 98% of the votes counted on Thursday, Geert Wilders' far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) won 37 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.
The populist party was well ahead of a joint Labor-Green bloc with 25 seats and the conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte with 24 seats.
Wilders' victory is expected to have far-reaching consequences in the Netherlands and Europe. The anti-EU politician has vowed to halt all immigration, slash Dutch payments to the union and block the entrance of any new members, including Ukraine.
How long will a new Dutch government take to form?
In his victory speech, Wilder said: "We want to govern and... we will govern."
Once all the votes from Wednesday's election have been counted, party leaders will have to negotiate the makeup of the next governing coalition. With multiple parties, and with the PVV in the lead, the horse-trading could take several months.
A coalition with the VVD, and the NSC party of centrist lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt would have 81 seats combined, more than the required 76.
However, it is not clear Wilders will be able to garner the necessary support to form a workable government. Before the vote, the leaders of the three other top parties had said they would not serve in a PVV-led coalition.
After the 2021 election, it took more than 271 days, or nine months, for a four-party arrangement to come together.
Although it is the tradition, there is no guarantee that the party that wins the most seats will end up delivering the prime minister. Rutte will remain in a caretaker role until a new government is installed, likely in the first half of 2024.
Once the coalition makeup is agreed upon, the parties sign a coalition agreement and the new government is tasked with setting out its plans in parliament, followed by a vote of confidence.
Far-right politicians in Europe congratulate Wilders
Wilders' party's stunning election performance drew praise from nationalist and far-right European politicians. "The winds of change are here! Congratulations to Geert Wilders on winning the Dutch elections!" said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who leads the Rassemblement National party, posted on X: "Congratulations to Geert Wilders and the PVV for their spectacular performance in the legislative elections which confirms the growing attachment to the defense of national identities."
Italian far-right leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini also congratulated Wilders. "Congratulations to our friend Geert Wilders, leader of the PVV and historic ally of the League, for this extraordinary electoral victory. A new Europe is possible."
Anxiety about the election results is growing
However, some also expressed trepidation over the election outcome. Frans Timmermans, leader of the Green/Labor left-wing bloc, said: "Democracy has spoken, now it's time for us to defend democracy, to defend the rule of law. We have to make a fist against exclusion, against discrimination."
"The distress and fear are enormous... Wilders is known for his ideas about Muslims and Moroccans. We are afraid that he will portray us as second-class citizens" said Habib El Kaddouri, head of the Dutch organization representing Dutch-Moroccans.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wilders' election victory was a consequence of "all the fears that are emerging in Europe" over immigration and the economy.
Who is Geert Wilders?
Often referred to as the Dutch Trump, Geert Wilders' anti-Islam, anti-immigrant and anti-EU message seems to have finally swept him to first place at the polls.
From calling Moroccans "scum" to holding competitions for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Wilders has built a career from his self-appointed mission to stop an "Islamic invasion" of the West.
He has remained defiant despite brushes with the law — he was convicted for insulting Moroccans — and death threats that have meant he has been under police protection since 2004.
Born in 1963 in southern Venlo, close to the German border, Wilders grew up in a Catholic family with his brother and two sisters. His mother was half-Indonesian, a fact Wilders rarely mentions.
Wilders entered politics in 1998 in the Liberal VVD party, before beginning a one-man faction in parliament and then forming the far-right PVV in 2006.
dh/rt (AFP, Reuters)