Dutch far-right party scores victory in local vote
The far-right Party for Freedom of Dutch anti-Islamist leader Geert Wilders scored major gains in municipal polls Thursday, coming first in Almere and second in The Hague, making the party a credible challenger in June's national election.
AFP - The far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders came first in municipal elections in Almere, east of Amsterdam, and second in The Hague, according to partial results released early Thursday.
Wilders's party, set up in 2006 to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands," contested only those two cities in its first municipal election Wednesday, three months ahead of early general elections June 9.
In Almere the PVV with 21.6 percent of the vote was ahead of the labour PvdA, winner in the previous elections in 2006, which got 17.6 percent, according to the results from 96 of the 98 polling stations.
"What is possible in The Hague and Almere is possible all over the country. It's a springboard for our victory," Wilders told supporters in Almere.
In The Hague, the country's political capital, the PVV came in second behind the PvdA.
Most polls had predicted the PVV would come first in Almere, a city of 187,000 inhabitants east of the capital Amsterdam, and second or third in The Hague -- the Netherlands' third largest city with 442,000 residents.
The PVV holds nine seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.
The Dutch went to the polls Wednesday for local elections viewed as a test of political loyalties and far-right leanings 10 days after the collapse of the centre-left national government.
These would be "the most nationally-focused local elections ever," the leftist Volkskrant newspaper said as pollsters predicted a tough ride for the two biggest parties - the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the PvdA.
Polls indicate that both parties were damaged ahead of national elections brought forward to June 9; the big winner being Wilders' PVV, now thought to be the most popular.
Some 12 million Dutch out of a total 16.5 million were registered to vote in 394 municipalities for nearly 9,000 councillors countrywide.
Wilders's party came in second in the European elections of June last year with 16.7 percent of the vote behind the Christian Democrats of outgoing premier Jan Peter Balkenende.
PvdA leader Wouter Bos withdrew his party from the national government last month in a spat with Balkenende's CDA over extending the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan.
The CDA got 41 seats out of 150 in parliament in the previous round of national elections, the PvdA 33 and the PVV nine.
Wilders is awaiting trial for alleged hate speech against Muslims for having likened the Koran with Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and calling Islam a fascist religion.
In 2006 municipal elections, the PvdA came out tops with 23.45 percent of the vote nationally, ahead of the CDA which got 16.83 percent.