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Dutch PM to lose Senate majority as populists surge: exit poll

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to lose his majority in parliament's upper house after an upstart anti-EU party surged in Wednesday's provincial elections, according to an exit poll.

[THE HAGUE] Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to lose his majority in parliament's upper house after an upstart anti-EU party surged in Wednesday's provincial elections, according to an exit poll.

Hard-right populist Thierry Baudet's eurosceptic Forum for Democracy (FvD) party has come from nowhere to be the second biggest in the senate, the poll by broadcaster NOS said.

Mr Rutte's coalition now looks set to have to rely on other parties to pass laws after the elections, which will be watched closely abroad as a bellwether of populist support ahead of crucial European elections in May.

The elections came two days after a Turkish man was arrested for shooting three people dead on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht, an attack which right-wing parties have seized on to push their anti-migrant agenda.

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Mr Baudet faced criticism for his refusal to follow the lead of other parties and stop campaigning on Monday after the attack.

The coalition led by Mr Rutte's centre-right VVD party is set to collapse from 38 to 31 seats in the 75-seat senate, which passes legislation approved by the lower house.

Mr Baudet - known for controversial statements such as "women in general excel less in jobs and have less ambition - led his party to win 10 seats, just behind Mr Rutte's VVD on 12, the exit poll said.

The anti-Islam Freedom Party led by far-right politician Geert Wilders is set to win six seats, down from nine, but could be influential if it teams up with Baudet.

Mr Rutte could now be left to rely on opposition parties to pass legislation, including the GroenLinks (Green Left) party led by Jesse Klaver, which is set to double its seats from four to eight.

Senate members will officially be decided in May by the 570 representatives elected to the country's 12 provinces in Wednesday's election.

AFP