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Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders won the most votes in parliamentary elections and immediately pledged to cut immigration to the Netherlands, in a boost to fellow nationalists and Eurosceptics across the EU.

Based on 98 per cent of votes counted, Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) was projected to win 37 seats, doubling its total after Wednesday’s vote, according to projections by press agency ANP.

Wilders said he would seek to form a government and pledged to curb an “asylum tsunami” and ensure “the Dutch get their country back”.

He added: “We can’t be ignored.” His party may struggle to assemble a coalition to govern, however, after some leaders of major parties signalled they would not work with him.

In Wednesday’s vote, Wilders’ party was followed by a leftwing alliance led by the EU’s former climate chief Frans Timmermans with 25 seats, and then the Liberal VVD with 23.

His victory will send shockwaves through the EU, which has been struggling to absorb migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Wilders also wants a referendum on leaving the EU. But the far-right politician, an anti-Islam campaigner who has vowed to ban the Koran and mosques, would need to find coalition partners for a governing majority in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, leader of the VVD, said she did not think she would serve in a Wilders cabinet.

Centre-right newcomer Pieter Omtzigt, a former Christian Democrat who formed his New Social Contract party only in August, has ruled out serving in a cabinet with Wilders. NSC is forecast to win 20 seats.

Some 26 parties contested the elections, and a poll by broadcaster NPO found that 16 would enter parliament. Analysts said whoever wins will require at least three other parties to govern — a prospect that could mean talks to form a government last for months, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte staying in a caretaker capacity.

Rutte’s ruling coalition collapsed in July over plans to try to limit immigration by making it harder for asylum seekers to be joined by family members.

The election campaign was dominated by migration, a housing crisis squeezing out young people and lower-income families, and environmental restrictions on farming in the densely packed country of 18mn.

Yeşilgöz-Zegerius said the country could not cope with the volume of arrivals. Net migration hit more than 220,000 in 2022, a tenfold increase in 20 years.

Omtzigt has suggested cutting annual numbers to 50,000, including those from the EU who have a right to work anywhere in the bloc. Wilders takes an even tougher line but has dropped his anti-Islam rhetoric in recent days.

Wilders still lives in a safe house and is guarded round the clock because of death threats.

A late surge of support for Wilders prompted a similar rise for Timmermans as leftwing voters turned out to try to thwart a rightwing government. The former EU commissioner leads a combined Labour and Green alliance, which increased its presence by nine seats, according to the poll.

However, Timmermans would also find it hard to form a government, as his closest ally, the progressive, liberal D66 group, is set to win only nine seats.

The Dutch system has no minimum threshold to enter parliament, so there is a rich array of factions, from the Party for the Animals to Denk, representing immigrants.

Read more on the Dutch election

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