Mixed picture for populist Wilders in Dutch local elections

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The right-wing populist party of anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders has gained footholds for the first time in dozens of municipalities across the Netherlands, but has struggled in some key cities, according to results broadcast Thursday.

Local elections held Wednesday in 335 Dutch municipalities are a barometer of support for national parties but are complicated by the popularity of small parties focused on local issues.

Near-complete results shown by national broadcaster NOS on Thursday had local parties winning nearly 33 percent of the vote.

Wilders' Party for Freedom fielded candidates in 30 municipalities and won seats in them all. But it lost ground in the only two municipalities where it took part in elections four years ago — The Hague and Almere — and did not do as well as it had hoped in Rotterdam.

"In some municipalities we've done very well, ... in other municipalities it is not as good as expected," Wilders told NOS.

"But our most important goal, a strong expansion of the number of seats and allowing the (party) voice to be heard in 30 municipalities ... has been a success," Wilders added.

Among mainstream parties, the Christian Democrats emerged with the most votes — around 13.5 percent — slightly ahead of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right Party of Freedom and Democracy. Both parties are part of the Netherlands' ruling four-party coalition.

The left-wing environmentalists Green Left also made gains, becoming the biggest party in Amsterdam and the central city of Utrecht.

NOS reported that with more than 90 percent of votes counted in a non-binding, advisory referendum that was held alongside the municipal elections, opponents of a new law granting intelligence agencies far-reaching powers to tap into electronic communications appeared on course for a narrow victory.

The official result of the referendum is due to be announced next week.

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