Gains for Wilders' anti-immigration party in Dutch elections
Early results suggest the hard-right anti-immigration party of Geert Wilders looks set to emerge as the main winner in local elections held in the Netherlands on Wednesday (3 March), setting the stage for a national showdown in June.
"We are going to conquer the entire country ... We are going to be the biggest party in the country," said the blond-haired Mr Wilders as the results came through.
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Although the Party for Freedom (PVV) only fielded candidates in two local constituencies, a new opinion poll that coincided with the vote suggested the party was set to make significant gains in the summer general elections.
The running of PVV candidates in the central municipalities of the Hague and Almere marks the first time the anti-Muslim populist Wilders has attempted to establish his party in local government.
With roughly 50 per cent of the vote counted in the Hague on Wednesday night, the PVV was in second place behind the Labour Party, while early returns from Almere suggested the PVV was set to become the biggest single party there.
"This is an enormous breakthrough," Sietse Fritsma, the leading PVV candidate in the Hague, told cheering supporters. "This is going to drive established politics completely crazy."
Mr Wilders, who likens the Qur'an to Hitler's Mein Kampf and supports the deportation of Muslim immigrants, made banning headscarves from local council offices its main campaign pledge. Amidst heavy security, many muslims and non-muslims turned up to the voting booths in the two constituencies wearing headscarves as a sign of protest.
The local elections have been overshadowed however by the fall of the coalition government ten days ago, with new opinion poll results from Dutch broadcaster NOS suggesting Mr Wilders is set to become the main beneficiary of the fallout.
The poll predicted the PVV could take between 24 and 27 of the 150 seats in parliament, placing the party in the top three and making the Mr Wilders a key player in the Netherlands' highly fragmented political scene that usually sees two or three parties form a government. The PVV currently has 9 seats in the Dutch legislature.
If Mr Wilders repeats the performance in the June elections, he could become the next prime minister, according to national radio.
But despite signals it is willing to make compromises, many mainstream parties cannot imagine forming a coalition with the PVV party due to its extreme views, raising questions over the construction of the next government.
The recent collapse of the Christian Democrat-Labour coalition occured when the Labour party, the junior partner, refused to extend the presence of 2,000 Dutch troops in Afghanistan which are scheduled to be withdrawn from August onwards.
Both parties, the two largest in the Netherlands, lost votes in Wednesday's local elections. The other big winners in the vote were the left-of-centre parties Green Left, and Democrat 66.
"We have to stop this country getting more polarised, not only between ethnic groups but also between generations," declared Alexander Pechtold, leader of D66.