Dutch elections: Wilders’ far-right party makes gains

  • Wilders leads efforts to form the new government
  • Anti-Islamic comments led to death threats
  • Wilders pledges in his victory speech to end the “migration tsunami”
  • Wilders will need to form a coalition with moderate parties

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A poll of voters exiting the polls showed that far-right anti-European Union populist Geert Wilders, who has pledged to stop immigration to the Netherlands, will achieve a major victory in the parliamentary elections that will be held on Wednesday.

Exceeding all expectations, the poll showed that Wilders’ Freedom Party won 35 seats out of 150, ten seats ahead of its closest competitor, a combination of the Labor Party and the Green Left led by former European Commissioner Frans Timmermans. This margin was much larger than expected, and appears to be too large to change the outcome.

Exit polls are generally considered reliable with a margin of error of about two seats.

In a cafe in The Hague, Wilders’ fans cheered, hugged and threw their arms in the air.

In his victory speech, Wilders pledged to end the “tsunami of asylum and migration.”

Wilders rode a wave of anti-immigration sentiment, blaming housing shortages on influxes of asylum seekers and citing widespread concerns about the cost of living and an overburdened health care system.

Wilders’ surprise victory came two months after the return to power in Slovakia of anti-EU populist Robert Fico, who pledged to halt military aid to Ukraine and reduce immigration.

Last year, Italy formed its most right-wing government since World War II after Giorgia Meloni won the elections.

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Wilders’ inflammatory views on Islam sparked death threats, and he lived under heavy police protection for years. He described the Prophet Muhammad as a “pedophile”, Islam a “fascist ideology” and a “backward religion”, and wants to ban mosques and the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book, in the Netherlands.

Abroad, his anti-Islam comments have led to sometimes violent protests in countries with large Muslim populations, including Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt. In Pakistan, a religious leader issued a fatwa against him.

Islamic and Moroccan organizations expressed their concerns about Wilders’ victory. “The distress and fear are enormous,” Habib Al-Qadouri, who heads an organization representing Dutch Moroccans, told Dutch news agency ANP. “We are afraid that he will portray us as second-class citizens.”

Labor and Green Left voter Ashlyn Hughes said: “It will be tougher on migrants and I fear they will deprive people of their human rights.”

At odds with the European Union

Wilders, a self-proclaimed fan of Viktor Orban in Hungary, is openly anti-EU, urging the Netherlands to control the border, dramatically reduce its payments to the bloc and bar the entry of any new members.

He has repeatedly said that the Netherlands should stop supplying weapons to Ukraine, saying it needs the weapons to be able to defend itself. But none of the parties that can form a government share these ideas.

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The poll showed that outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party, the conservative VVD, came in third place with 24 seats.

Immigration – the issue that led to the collapse of Rutte’s last government after 13 years in power – was a major issue in the election campaign.

Wilders is expected to try to form a right-wing government with the VVD and the New Social Contract party, which together will have a 79-seat majority.

The talks could be difficult because both parties said they had serious doubts about working with Wilders, due to his outspoken anti-Islam stance, which includes a goal of banning all mosques and Qur’ans in the Netherlands.

“I am confident that we can reach an agreement,” Wilders said in his victory speech. “I understand very well that we should not take any actions that may be unconstitutional.”

He said that his party was now too big to be ignored, adding that he was ready to lead the country.

Wilders is known internationally for his anti-Islamic policies, and a Dutch judge convicted him of discrimination after he insulted Moroccans at an election rally in 2014.

Rutte will remain in a caretaker role until a new government is formed, likely in the first half of 2024.

(Reporting by Johnny Cotton, Toby Sterling, Anthony Deutsch, Bart Meijer, Stephanie van den Berg and Charlotte van Campenhout – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Ingrid Melander. Editing by Toby Chopra, Angus McSwan and Aurora Ellis

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