NETHERLANDS ELECTION POPULIST GEERT WILDERS CLAIMS VICTORY – However, it is very unlikely he will become Prime Minister

The man who has long derided mainstream politics as the preserve of a self-serving elite – is now cast as the most popular leader in a national election.

Geert Wilders, one of Europe’s most prominent, controversial and inflammatory populist politicians, is heading for victory in the Dutch general election.

Mr Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), is predicted to win 35 seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament – the best result in a political career that spans decades largely spent berating Islam and mainstream politicians.

“The PVV can no longer be ignored,” he said in the wake of victory. “We will govern.”

The left-wing coalition led by Frans Timmermans is predicted to come second with 25 seats while the VVD, which has led the government for the past 13 years under the leadership of outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte, had a dismal night, falling to third place with a predicted haul of only 24 seats.  “That was a catastrophic disaster,” one member told me.

The election marked a remarkable turnaround from the last poll, two years ago.

Then, Mr Wilders’ PVV won only 17 seats, while the VVD took 34. Since then, Mr Rutte’s coalition government collapsed after a row over migration policy and a controvershial farmers bill, while Mr Wilders’ popularity has risen gradually.