Far-Right Election Breakthrough Shocks Netherlands

Far-right election breakthrough shocks Netherlands

By Mariette le Roux
Agence France Presse, June 10, 2010

The Hague (AFP) — The spectacular election breakthrough of the far-right anti-Muslim Party for Freedom shocked the Netherlands on Thursday as two mainstream parties braced for weeks of coalition haggling.

The pro-business Liberal VVD party had 31 seats and the Labour party (PvdA) 30, with 99.6 percent of the vote counted after Wednesday's election.

But far-right PVV leader Geert Wilders demanded a share of government after his party came third with 24 seats, more than doubling its current nine seats in the 150-member parliament.

'Nobody in The Hague can bypass the PVV anymore,' said Wilders, whose party wants an end to immigration from Muslim countries and a ban on new mosques and the Koran.

'We want to be part of the new government,' declared Wilders, a distinctive figure with a shock of dyed blonde hair who is under 24-hour protection and has to live at secret addresses because of his controversial political stand.

France's far-right National Front hailed the PVV's 'great success', while the CMO Dutch Muslim organisation expressed disappointment.

'It is shameful,' CMO chairman Rasit Bal told Dutch news agency ANP.

'One thing is clear: a group of people are against us. It is terrible,' a 29-year-old Muslim who identified herself only as Aicha told AFP at Oosterwei, an immigrant-majority suburb of the Dutch city of Gouda.

The PVV pushed the Christian Democratic Action party of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende into fourth place, prompting him to resign as party leader and MP after eight years as Dutch premier.

Having been a part of nearly every Dutch government since World War II, the Christian Democrats lost 20 seats to end at 21. Balkenende's last centre-left coalition collapsed in February over the country's Afghanistan military mission.

'A divided Netherlands,' said the front page headline on the NRC Next newspaper, summing up the election results.

With economic concerns dominating the campaign, the Liberal party led by Mark Rutte campaigned with a promise to cut public spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years.

It also promised to eradicate the public deficit, which was 5.3 percent of GDP last year, to shrink the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servant pay rises while raising the retirement age by two years to 67.

Labour, led by Amsterdam ex-mayor Job Cohen, had promised more 'careful' savings, the retention of social benefits and higher taxes for the rich. It lost two seats.

The election was the first in a eurozone country since the Greek financial crisis erupted and was closely watched to see how the public reacted to Europe's wave of austerity. Voter turnout was 74 percent, the lowest since 1998.

Rutte has set a target date of July 1 to create a new government. 'We do not exclude any party,' he said ahead of the polls, asked about a possible coalition with the far right.

Cohen has ruled out cooperation with the PVV.

The maverick Wilders has earned notoriety around the world with his campaign to 'stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands.'

Wilders, who calls Islam a fascist religion and likens the Koran to Hitler's 'Mein Kampf', is known abroad for his 17-minute commentary, 'Fitna', which was termed 'offensively anti-Islamic' by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

He goes on trial in the Netherlands in October on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. He was barred from entering Britain last year to stop him spreading 'hatred and violent messages.'

The deadlocked result means that the PVV cannot be ruled out of coalition talks which observers say will be long and complicated.

Among the other parties, the Socialist Party got 15 seats, down from 25, the Green GroenLinks and centrist D66 both made gains to get 10 and the Christian Union five, losing one.

Official results will be released next Tuesday.