AMSTERDAM (AP) — While the winner of the Dutch national elections is not yet certain, the biggest loser appears certain to be Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-Europe, anti-immigration Freedom Party.
Wilders, best known for his harsh anti-Islam rhetoric, gambled that the public sentiment in the Netherlands was sufficiently negative over the euro currency that he based his campaign on bashing the European Union.
According to exit polls, his party lost 11 seats in parliament, falling from 24 to 13.
"I would have rather stood here with good news, but the voter has spoken: we have lost badly," he told supporters after exit poll results were released.
He said he would continue to "fight," to "to protect the Netherlands against Europe, against mass immigration, against the (European) super-state."
"We will never give up," he said.
His party may also have been punished for an image of unreliability. In April, Wilders withdrew his support from Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Cabinet, bringing down the government and precipitating the current elections. Wilders' reason: He didn't want to adhere to Europe's 3 percent budget deficit limit.
While Wednesday's poor showing effectively means Wilders will not participate in a new government, that may not hamper him from filling the main role he has occupied since the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical in 2004: as a gadfly for more mainstream parties, voicing sharp criticism of policies he sees as betraying Dutch national interests.
Many voters said they approved of Wilders' skepticism over the euro, but his call to withdraw from the European Union entirely was simply too much.
Wilders loudly opposed bailouts for southern European countries, at one point printing up an oversize replica of an old drachma note and trying to deliver it to the Greek Embassy as a stunt.
Earlier Wednesday, voter Marlon Alberto — a Dutch man of African ancestry — said Wilders is "the closest thing there is to an honest politician," and he planned to keep supporting him regardless of the election's outcome.
"At least he's not saying things behind my back," he said outside a voting booth at Amsterdam city hall. "If he wants people like me to leave this country, he'll say it to my face."
Before the elections, author Chris Aalberts said Wilders will remain a force to be reckoned with.
He predicted that if Mark Rutte's VVD party wins the elections "they will always have one eye on the polls, and Wilders will force them to take as hard a line against Brussels as they can."