Dutch populist Baudet wins vote to remain party leader

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FILE - In this Thursday, May 23, 2019 file photo, Thierry Baudet, leader of the populist party Forum for Democracy, waits for his partner Davide Heijmans to cast her ballot for the European elections in Amsterdam. Members of a Dutch right-wing populist party have voted overwhelmingly in support of its leader, who stood down last month and then returned amid criticism of the way he handled accusations of extreme views among some members of the party’s youth wing. In a referendum result announced Friday, Dec. 3, more than 76% of members of Forum For Democracy voted for Thierry Baudet to remain as party leader. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, file)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Members of a Dutch right-wing populist party voted overwhelmingly Friday in support of its leader who resigned last month, and then returned, amid criticism of the way he handled accusations of extreme views among some members of the party's youth wing.

In a referendum, more than 76% of members of Forum For Democracy voted for Thierry Baudet to remain as party leader. Baudet’s victory came less than four months before a general election in the Netherlands.

The result secured Baudet at the helm of the nationalist party that advocates referendums on the Netherlands quitting the European Union and the euro single currency, and a tougher immigration policy.

The turmoil that enveloped the party came after a newspaper report in November alleged that members of the party’s youth wing posted far-right and anti-Semitic messages in text groups. The youth wing rejected the report and said it was based on “quotes taken out of context.”

Baudet is the only remaining national lawmaker for the party after its other legislator quit last week. One of its senators also resigned and on Friday night the party's three European legislators posted a statement on Twitter saying they were also leaving the party.

In a written statement posted on Twitter, Baudet said he welcomed the result and said the party will “say goodbye to those who do not agree with my line.”

Baudet will now have to build a new list of candidates for the March 17 election.