Dutch PM-elect forms government backed by anti-Islam MP

8th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Dutch Prime Minister-elect Mark Rutte on Friday started work to forge a new rightist, minority government that will rely heavily on the support of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.

With Wilders support expected to come at the cost of a burqa ban and a halving of immigration, Rutte met his future vice-premier, Maxime Verhagen, leader of the Christian Democratic CDA, in The Hague.

Some analysts, however, predicted that the government headed by Rutte's rightist pro-business VVD party, which narrowly won June 9 general elections, would be short-lived.

Rutte would meet colleagues over the coming days in order to form his 20-strong cabinet comprising half VVD members and half CDA.

"There is no stability," University of Amsterdam politics professor Paul Scheffer told AFP of the first minority cabinet since 1918. "I don't expect the cabinet will last longer than six months to a year."

Dutch Queen Beatrix on Thursday night cleared Rutte to form a VVD-CDA government that has 52 seats out of 150 in the Dutch lower house of parliament. He said he hoped to complete the task within a week.

As a result of a deal struck with the controversial Wilders last week, his Party for Freedom (PVV) will remain outside of government but throw its 24 parliamentary seats behind the VVD-CDA coalition to enable it to pass decisions through parliament.

In return, the PVV will get a say in policy-making.

Observers said Friday the new power wielded by Wilders will test the Netherlands' reputation for multi-cultural tolerance.

His influence has already become apparent after he announced last week that a governing pact carrying his party's support would result in a burqa ban and a 50 percent reduction in immigration.

"Dutch tolerance is waning, it is losing ground," Free University of Amsterdam sociologist Geert de Vries told AFP on Friday.

Wilders, who campaigns for an end to Muslim immigration, a ban on the building of new mosques and a head scarf tax, went on trial in Amsterdam on Monday on charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims.

The 47-year-old risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro (10,500-dollar) fine if convicted for describing Islam as "fascist" and its holy book, the Koran, as "the Islamic Mein Kampf".

Rutte stressed Thursday "that we are not here in the interests of one party, but in the interests of the whole Netherlands."

Yet the VVD-CDA government pact supported by the PVV outlines a clear hardening of the approach to immigration and integration -- including burdening newcomers with the cost of naturalisation courses and a ban on wearing headscarves in the police and justice system.

"There has been a shift from the pragmatic, non-moral politics of the 1960s to repressive, moral politics," political scientist Andre Krouwel said.

"The sixties are over... tolerance is a leftist idea."

Rutte's VVD narrowly won the June poll with 31 seats in parliament, while Wilders' PVV was the biggest climber, nearly tripling its support from nine seats previously.

The CDA, which has been in nearly all governments since World War II, saw its presence dwindle from 41 to 21 seats.

Rutte will be the first premier since 1918 of a Dutch party that labels itself liberal.

The last government, a CDA-led coalition under premier Jan Peter Balkenende, fell in February in a dispute over continued military support to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The parliamentary caucus of the CDA, deeply divided over cooperation with Wilders, finally gave the government deal the go-ahead on Tuesday after much internal wrangling.

In June, negotiators ruled out a leftist coalition involving the PvdA labour party, which came second in the elections with 30 seats, citing differences in economic policy.

© 2010 AFP

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