Eurosceptic Geert Wilders suffered a surprising setback Thursday after a Dutch exit poll showed his anti-Islam party losing support on the first day of voting in the European Parliament elections, despite expected continental gains for the far-right.
Only the Netherlands and Britain voted on the first day of elections whose official results will not be known until Sunday night when all 28 nations in the bloc have gone to the polls.
The shock slide for Wilders’ Party for Freedom bucked the expected trend of anti-EU parties winning support across the continent.
An exit poll by Ipsos published by broadcaster NOS showed Wilders’ party (PVV) slipping to 12.2 percent of the Dutch vote from the 17 percent recorded five years ago.
“We fought like lions,” Wilders told supporters at an election night party that was plunged into silence by the unofficial results. “The truth is that the exit polls are disappointing.”
He blamed PVV supporters who did not vote for his party’s poor result, but said the low turnout showed Dutch people’s “aversion and disinterest” in Europe.
Reinier Heutink of Ipsos told NOS the agency’s exit poll was at more than 40 locations across the Netherlands and expected to get responses from some 20,000 voters. He did not give a margin of error.
Electorate weary of economic crisis, austerity
Anti-EU parties like Wilders’ had been the expected beneficiaries of a disillusioned and apathetic electorate. The Dutch Socialist Party, which also is strongly skeptical of the 28-member bloc, got 10 percent of the vote, up from 7.1 percent at the 2009 elections.
Instead, the Dutch pro-Europe D66 party appeared to be heading for victory with 15.6 percent of the vote. Ipsos said there was a 37 percent turnout.
“It looks like our clear pro-Europe message has got us more support,” the party’s leader in Europe Sophie in ‘t Veld told NOS.
Some 400 million Europeans are eligible to vote, with national polls being held through Sunday. Results will be announced late Sunday.
More than 16,000 candidates from 953 parties or lists – from greens to feminists to the far-right – are vying for the legislature’s 751 seats.
Turnout expected be lower than in 2009
Continent-wide voter turnout was 43 percent at the last election in 2009 but could slump even lower this time. Many voters are weary after several years of economic crisis and austerity, and increasingly sceptical of efforts to unite the continent into an economic and political superpower.
In Britain, final opinion polls showed the UK Independence Party, which wants to withdraw from the EU and impose tighter immigration controls, topping the poll and pushing the governing Conservatives into third place behind Labour.
“If we get what we like things will never be quite the same again,” said its leader, Nigel Farage, as he prepared to vote at a school near his southern England home.
The bulk of countries vote on Sunday, when the trend towards the political extremes may become clearer, particularly in France, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Austria.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-05-23