The far-right, anti-Islam Freedom Party of Eurosceptic politician Geert Wilders came fourth in exit polls from voters in the Dutch elections for the European Parliament, public television reported after polls closed.
Thursday’s result, if confirmed by final results on Sunday, would be a major upset for Wilders, who had been leading opinion polls for months.
Wilders’ PVV party will have 12.7 percent, trailing three pro-European parties, the Christian Democrats, Democrats 66 and the centre-right VVD according to the exit poll results, which also said that the turnout was 37 percent.
The exit poll was based on interviews with 40,000 voters conducted by pollster IPSOS for Dutch public television.
Wilders, who dominated the campaign with his widely condemned call for a Netherlands with “fewer Moroccans”, has said he will seek to forge alliances with other far-right parties in the Brussels assembly, including France’s Front National.
The Netherlands and Britain kicked off four days of voting across the European Union on Thursday.
On the last day of campaigning, Jean-Claude Juncker, the top candidate for Europe’s centre-right political group, urged people to vote, but not to throw their votes away.
“Do not give your votes to extremist xenophobes or fascists,” he said at a rally in Brussels.
“If you want Europe to function and to serve its citizens, we should vote for people who will work hard in the next European Parliament.”
Despite dwindling turnout, Europe’s mainstream political groups – the centre-right European People’s Party, the centre-left Socialists & Democrats, the liberal ALDE alliance and the Greens – are together expected to secure 70 percent of the vote, leaving them as a driving force in Europe as long as they work together.
While the European Parliament has in the past been derided as a toothless talking shop, it has gained relevance since the passage of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 and now enjoys “co-decision” powers with member states over most legislation.