Lengthy coalition talks loom after far-right gain in Dutch elections

The Netherlands looks set to endure protracted coalition talks and a possible unstable government after Thursday's elections brought about a big win for the country's far-right and anti-Islam Party for Freedom (leader Geert Wilders, pictured).


AFP - The Netherlands faces protracted coalition talks and an unstable government after an outspoken anti-Islam party scored strong election gains, observers said Thursday.

"It is going to be really difficult to form a cabinet this time," University of Amsterdam political analyst Paul Scheffer told AFP.

"The political arena has been completely fragmented. Never before has the biggest party achieved only 31 seats," he said as the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) recorded significant gains to end a strong third with 24 seats out of 150 in parliament.

"It will be really very, very difficult to achieve a stable outcome. My expectation is that we will have new elections within a year."

The centre-right Liberal Party (VVD) snatched a last-minute lead over the Labour party (PvdA) with 31 seats to 30 after Wednesday's polls, according to results with 99.6 percent of the vote counted. Official results are expected next Tuesday.

The Party for Freedom of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders leapfrogged the historically strong Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, which ended in fourth place with 20 seats.

"The PVV will have to be consulted at length. Given its size, it cannot be ignored," University of Twente political analyst Henk van der Kolk told AFP.

"I would be very surprised if we have a new government before September/October."

Liberal leader Mark Rutte said this week he wanted to create a new government by July 1.

The Netherlands' proportional election system does not traditionally give any single party the required majority of 76 seats to pass laws. It is usual for the leader of the biggest party to become prime minister.

The palace said that Queen Beatrix would meet advisers at her palace in The Hague on Thursday to consider coalition options.

Labour has categorically excluded cooperation with the far-right, which entered the Dutch parliament in 2006 with nine MPs.

The PVV campaigned to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands", insisting on a ban of the Koran, which Wilders has likened to Hitler's Mein Kampf, and on the building of new mosques.

Wilders goes on trial in October on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims and was banned from Britain last year to stop him spreading "hatred".

Neither the Liberals nor the CDA have not ruled out a coalition with Wilders' party, though Christian Democrat voters are unlikely to find it a palatable choice.

Scheffer said a theoretical coalition of the Liberals, Christian Democrats and PVV would have an unstable majority of only one seat and could be avoided for fear that Wilders' profile would damage the Netherlands' foreign image.

The only realistic coalition of Liberals, Labour, the centrist D66 and the Greens -- a total 81 seats -- would leave the winning party in a minority position in a leftist government, "and I don't think they will do that," said Scheffer.

As newspapers talked of the "impossible mandate" that voters had given their leaders, analysts thought it unlikely that Wilders would join the government, even though he insists on trying.

The Liberals have promised to cut public spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years.

They also want to eliminate the public deficit, which was 5.3 percent of GDP last year, shrink the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servant pay rises.

Labour had promised more "careful" savings, the retention of social benefits and higher taxes for the rich.

Wilders opposed plans to raise the retirement age as proposed by the Liberals and Labour, but announced Thursday that he no longer regarded it as a "breaking point" in negotiations.

Balkenende's outgoing cabinet will remain in charge until a new government is formed.

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