Geert Wilders’s far-right, anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) has won most seats in the Dutch parliamentary elections, with 98 percent of votes counted.
The PVV won 37 seats out of 150, well ahead of 25 for a joint Labour/Green ticket and 24 for the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the partial results showed on Thursday.
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“The Rutte era ends with a right-wing populist revolt that shakes [The Hague] to its foundations. The historic election victory that the PVV achieved on Wednesday exceeded all expectations,” Dutch centre-right daily NRC said.
The populist party now moves to form a coalition with at least two other parties to take the majority and appoint a prime minister.
A coalition of the VVD and the New Social Contract (NSC) party of centrist lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt would have 81 seats combined, making it the most obvious combination but which could still take months of difficult talks.
“The voter has spoken,” Wilders said on TV on Wednesday evening as the outcome of the election became apparent. He made clear his intention to govern, saying “under no circumstances” should the will of the voters be ignored.
“I am confident we can reach an agreement,” Wilders said in his victory speech. “We want to govern and … we will govern.”
The extreme right-wing ideals of the PVV have raised an alarm among some Dutch opposition. None of the parties he could form a government with shares his anti-European Union ideas.
Despite the electoral triumph, a total victory through the necessary support for a broad enough coalition to form a stable government may prove elusive, but not impossible.
The leaders of the three other top parties had previously ruled out serving in a PVV-led coalition.
Leader of the Green/Labour left-wing bloc, Frans Timmermans, seemed to refuse a coalition, saying: “Now is the time for us to defend democracy.”
The VVD said it was not ruling out a coalition with Wilders, however.
Yet, the VVD’s top candidate, Dilan Yesilgoz, who is aiming to become the first woman to head the government, insisted that she will not enter a government with Wilders as prime minister.
Pieter Omtzigt, whose NSC party was expected to win 20 seats according to the exit poll, appeared to soften his position as well, saying he was “available”, although coalition talks would “not be easy”.
Wilders has acknowledged the coalition challenge, saying “I call on the parties … Now we will have to look for agreements with each other.”
He assured cheering supporters on Wednesday, “The PVV can no longer be ignored.”
Parties are set to meet each on their side on Thursday to discuss what to do next. On Friday, party leaders will meet to decide on an “explorer”, a political outsider who will hear from each party what possibilities they see and prefer in coalition talks.
Fear and concern
The election marked a sharp turn to the right for the country, making the PVV the first right-wing populist party to ever win parliamentary elections.
Wilders has often been compared with former US President Donald Trump in his political position, and his party’s anti-Islam, anti-EU platform ran on an anti-immigrant campaign with a hardline stance, including closing the borders and deporting undocumented immigrants.
“The Dutch hope that the people can get their country back and that we will ensure that the tsunami of asylum seekers and immigration is reduced,” Wilders said, stressing a position which struck a strong cord with many voters.
Islamic and Moroccan organisations expressed concerns about Wilders’s victory. Muslims make up about 5 percent of the population in the Netherlands.
“The distress and fear are enormous,” Habib el-Kaddouri, who heads an organisation representing Dutch Moroccans, told Dutch news agency ANP. “We are afraid that he will portray us as second-class citizens.”
The PVV manifesto clearly states what future Wilders imagines for the Netherlands, declaring: “Asylum seekers feast on delightful free cruise-ship buffets while Dutch families have to cut back on groceries.”
It proposed a ban on Islamic schools, Qurans and mosques. Headscarves would be banned from government buildings.
A “binding referendum” would be held on a “Nexit” – the idea of the Netherlands leaving the EU.
The PVV also called for an “immediate halt” to development aid and pursue a “Netherlands first” foreign policy.