The Netherlands' center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte was on course for a resounding victory over anti-Islam and anti-EU Geert Wilders in an election on Wednesday, offering huge relief to other EU governments facing a wave of nationalism.
"It appears that the VVD will be the biggest party in the Netherlands for the third time in a row," a beaming Rutte told cheering supporters at a post-election party in The Hague. "Tonight we'll celebrate a little."
Rutte received congratulatory messages from European leaders and spoke with some by telephone.
"It is also an evening in which the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said 'stop' to the wrong kind of populism," he said.
Wilders said he had not achieved the electoral victory he had hoped for and was ready to offer tough opposition.
"I would rather have been the largest party.... but we are not a party that has lost. We gained seats. That's a result to be proud of," Wilder told journalists.
With 55 percent of votes counted, Rutte's VVD Party was projected to win 32 of parliament's 150 seats, down from 41 at the last vote in 2012. Wilders was in a three-way tie for second on 19 seats with the Christian Democrat CDA and centrist Democrats 66, data provided by the ANP news agency showed.
At 81 percent, turnout was the highest in 30 years in an election that was a test of whether the Dutch wanted to end decades of liberalism and choose a nationalist, anti-immigrant path by voting for Wilders and his promise to "de-Islamicise" the Netherlands and quit the European Union.
The result was a relief to mainstream parties across Europe, particularly in France and Germany, where right-wing nationalists hope to make a big impact in elections this year, potentially posing an existential threat to the EU.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is set to make France's presidential election run-off in May, while euroskeptic, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany is likely to enter the German federal parliament for the first time in a September election.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, could not restrain his joy, tweeting: "The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!..... Congratulations on this great result."
France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tweeted: "Congratulations to the Dutch for stemming the rise of the far-right."