THE HAGUE, Netherlands: Putting a brave face on a result widely interpreted as a set-back for far-right populism, the Netherlands' anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders popped the cork on a bottle of sparkling wine at a meeting of his new Parliamentary bloc, celebrating increasing his bloc from 15 in 2012 to 20 at Wednesday's vote.
Wilders told lawmakers Thursday: "We are the second party in the Netherlands. Congratulations!" But the far-right populist conceded, "We would have preferred to be the first party."
In mid-December, polls suggested Wilders' Party for Freedom was on course to easily become the largest party, but his support ebbed away as Wednesday's election approached.
The party finished second behind the right-wing VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and now looks likely to spend the next parliamentary term in opposition as all mainstream parties have ruled out forming a coalition with Wilders.
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