Geert Wilders aims to become Dutch PM after shock election win | Netherlands #Geert #Wilders #aims #Dutch #shock #election #win #Netherlands

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherlands’ far-right, anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV), has vowed to try to become prime minister and has said he is in favour of a referendum on the country’s EU membership after his party scored an unexpected and emphatic victory in Wednesday’s general election.

The PVV – whose manifesto included calls for bans on mosques, the Qur’an, and the wearing of Islamic headscarves in government buildings – won 37 seats in the 150-seat parliament, more than double its previous number.

The GreenLeft-Labour party alliance (GL/PvdA) led by the former EU commissioner Frans Timmermans finished second with 25 seats, while the liberal-conservative Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), headed by the outgoing justice minister, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, got 24 seats.

The electoral upset, which was welcomed by other European far-right parties and whose reverberations will be felt around Europe, has left the Netherlands facing complex and potentially lengthy coalition talks.

Speaking to Dutch media on Thursday, Wilders said he wanted to be prime minister, adding that while he was in favour of a vote on whether the Netherlands should leave the EU, his priority would be “a significant restriction” on asylum and immigration.

He said: “We don’t do that for ourselves, we do that for all Dutch people who voted for us … who are fed up with how things have gone in the Netherlands in recent years, who think Dutch people should be number one again, with stricter immigration policy, more houses also for the Dutch, with decent healthcare, more money in wallets instead of throwing away billions.”

Wilders said the PVV would be in the next government and that he would work with other parties on what he called a “new politics”. To do so, however, he will need to form a coalition with other parties in order to govern with majority support in parliament.

Although a coalition of the PVV, the VVD of the outgoing conservative prime minister, Mark Rutte, and the NSC party of the centrist lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt would have 81 seats combined, neither potential partner would be willing to leave the EU or violate constitutional guarantees on freedom of religion. The European Greens said on Thursday that the VVD should be expelled from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) if it joins a coalition with the PVV.

Both parties met on Thursday to discuss whether they want to work in coalition with Wilders.

The VVD’s Yeşilgöz-Zegerius said she was sceptical about a Wilders-led government.

“I have said that I didn’t see that this country would have a leader who does not bring together all Dutch people … but above all I don’t see a majority forming,” she told Dutch media.

Timmermans told a party meeting that he would focus on opposition. “People who are worried should know that GreenLeft/Labour is on their side, and that we will come together to fight shoulder-to-shoulder,” he said. “People, from today, the campaign begins.”

Omtzigt, whose party is centre-right but represents voters from across the political spectrum – and which won 20 seats – was more nuanced. Congratulating Wilders, and with his Dutch wife of Turkish origin looking to the floor, he said: “We are available to put this trust, which we take very seriously, in deeds from tomorrow.”

He added: “I know that as a middle party, as a party with ideals, we need to look at which way this country is governed.”

Wilders has recently attempted to soften his more hardline anti-Islam language, apparently in the hope of entering a coalition government for the first time. He has conceded that there are “bigger problems” than bringing down refugee numbers and said that he could put some of his anti-Muslim positions “on ice”.

The PVV’s performance was applauded by other European far-right leaders. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said the results showed “the winds of change are here!” while the French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, said it confirmed “the growing attachment to the defence of national identities”.

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Although the party that wins the most seats traditionally provides the next prime minister, it is by no means guaranteed to do so. Rutte will remain in a caretaker role until a new government is installed, which may not be before next spring.

Coalition talks are expected to take months. Party leaders will meet to decide on an informateur, or explorer – a political outsider who will hear each party’s demands and expectations during coalition talks.

Johan Remkes, a previous informateur and veteran politician, said the parties had a duty to try to form a coalition. “The country has to be governed,” he told Dutch radio. “The parties need to find a way forward and new elections won’t solve anything.”

Caroline van der Plas, the head of the Farmer Citizen Movement and an attractive coalition partner as the movement holds the most senate seats, told Dutch media: “You cannot and you must not ignore the two-and-half million people who have now voted for the PVV.”

The shape of the new coalition could have a significant impact on both the Netherlands’ immigration and climate policies and its relations with its European partners. The country was a founding EU member and punches above its weight in the bloc.

Wilders’ win also sends a warning shot to mainstream parties across Europe ahead of the European parliament elections due next June, which are likely to be fought on the same issues as the Dutch election: immigration; cost of living, and the climate crisis.

Reactions were mixed on the streets of the Netherlands, and anti-fascist demonstrations were planned for Thursday evening in Amsterdam and Utrecht. One woman told the broadcaster NOS: “That PVV is the biggest [party] makes me ashamed to be Dutch.”

Analysts have predicted that coalition negotiations could prove even longer and more complex than after the previous election, in 2021, when four coalition partners took a record 271 days to hammer out an agreement.

Rutte’s fourth and final coalition resigned in July after failing to agree on measures to rein in immigration, one of the key issues of the campaign along with healthcare, a housing crisis that especially affects Dutch youth, the cost of living, and voter trust in politicians.

#Geert #Wilders #aims #Dutch #shock #election #win #Netherlands

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