Tough coalition talks ahead as Dutch far-right make gains
The Netherlands faces the prospect of protracted coalition talks and an unstable government after an outspoken anti-immigrant party scored strong gains at the polls, 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 votes," 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) managed to snatch a last-minute victory from the Labour PvdA with 31 seats to 30 in Wednesday's polls, according to partial results issued with 98 percent of the vote counted. Official results are expected next Tuesday.
The Party for Freedom of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders leapfrogged the historical favourite Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, which ended in fourth place with 20 votes in Wednesday's vote.
"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 of pending coalition discussions.
"I would be very surprised if we have a new government before September/October."
Liberal leader Mark Rutte said earlier this week he wanted to create a new government by July 1.
The Netherlands' proportional election system historically does not give any party an outright majority of 76 seats required to pass laws, and coalition governments normally take about two months to be cobbled together after an election.
Dutch Queen Beatrix would meet her advisers at her working palace in The Hague on Thursday evening to discuss future options, the palace said.
Labour has categorically excluded cooperation with the far-right, which made its entrance into the Dutch parliament in 2006 with nine MPs, while the Christian Democrats were also likely to find such cooperation unpalatable.
The far-right PVV campaigned on a ticket to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands", insisting on a ban of the Koran, which Wilders has likened to Hitler's Mein Kampf, and the building of new mosques.
Wilders, who has called Islam a fascist religion, goes on trial in the Netherlands in October on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims. He was barred from entering Britain in 2009 to stop him spreading "hatred and violent messages."
The Liberals have not ruled out a coalition with Wilders' party.
But Scheffer said a theoretical coalition of the Liberals, Christian Democrats and Wilders' party would have an unstable majority of only one seat.
"I don't think the CDA and Liberals would go into a government dependent on Wilders. And they will be concerned about the consequences for the Netherlands abroad, its image."
The only realistic coalition of the Liberals, Labour, the centrist D66 and the Greens -- a total of 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 did not see it as likely Wilders' ending up in the government, even though he has insisted he wanted the chance.
"This can only happen if he renounces his (worker-friendly) economic package in exchange for keeping his immigration programme," said Free University of Amsterdam political analyst Andre Krouwel.
The Liberals have promised to cut public spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years and by 20 billion euros a year from 2015.
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 the opposite -- more "careful" savings, the retention of social benefits and higher taxes for the rich.
Wilders opposes plans to raise the retirement age as proposed by the Liberals and Labour.
© 2010 AFP