- Wilders leads far-right in Dutch polls
- Fellow Eurosceptics hail the victory as a sign that Europe is changing
- Muslim groups express concern
AMSTERDAM, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Far-right populist Geert Wilders wants to be the next prime minister of the Netherlands and will focus his efforts on curbing immigration, he said, following a key election victory that will have ramifications for the Netherlands and Europe.
The anti-Islamic, anti-EU Wilders, a fan of former US President Donald Trump and Hungary’s Eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has also vowed to cut Dutch payments to the EU and block the entry of any new members, including Ukraine.
While Wilders’ more radical ideas will be rejected by other parties he should work with to form a coalition government, his victory was hailed by fellow populists, including Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and head of the far-right League, saying “a new Europe is possible.”
Beating all predictions, Wilder’s Freedom Party (PVV) won 37 seats out of 150 on Wednesday, 25 seats for a joint Labour/Green Ticket and well ahead of outgoing Prime Minister Mark’s conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) 24 seats. Rutte.
Wilders told Dutch media on Thursday that he wants to be prime minister and supports a referendum on whether the Netherlands should leave the European Union.
“But the first thing is a significant restriction on asylum and immigration,” Wilders said. “We’re not doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for all the Dutch people who voted for us.”
While his party claims almost a quarter of the seats in parliament, Wilders needs major parties to co-govern with him and water down some of his ideas.
Notably, Wilders said no party could form a government, was unwilling to leave the EU or violate Dutch constitutional guarantees on religious freedom, but said he hoped an agreement would be reached.
A coalition of the Freedom Party, VVD and centrist lawmaker Peter Omdzig’s NSC party will have 81 seats, the most obvious combination. Coalition talks are expected to take months as both VVT and NSC leaders have reservations about working with Wilders.
Wilders’ victory sends a warning shot to mainstream parties across Europe ahead of next June’s European Parliament elections, which could be fought over the same issues as the Dutch election: immigration, cost of living and climate change.
“We had it with the old politicians,” said voter Hermann Borcher as he welcomed the election results in the eastern city of Enschede.
“The Netherlands needs change,” agreed voter Sabine Schoeppen with a smile: “Rutte bye bye. Welcome Geert Wilders.”
Poland’s election last month, won by a group of pro-European parties against the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), shows that not all countries in the region have turned to the right.
“The Netherlands is not France,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire quickly responded, while acknowledging that the Dutch election showed “manifest fears in Europe” over immigration and the economy.
But Wilders’ victory comes two months after Robert Fico, an equally anti-EU populist, returned to power in Slovakia.
“The winds of change are here!,” said Hungary’s Orban.
Wilders has repeatedly called for the Netherlands to stop supplying Ukraine with weapons because, he says, the country needs them to defend itself. He is pro-Israel.
Islamist and Moroccan organizations and other rights groups expressed concern over Wilders’ victory. Muslims constitute 5% of the population.
“These election results are shocking for Dutch Muslims,” said Muhsin Koktas, CMO of the Dutch Muslim Organization. “We have great concerns about the future of Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands.”
Amnesty International said: “Yesterday, human rights were lost.”
All eyes will now turn to Wilders’ potential government partners, who expressed serious misgivings about working with him during the campaign, but are now less vocal after his victory.
“We are ready to govern,” said Omtzigt of the NSC party. “It was a difficult decision. On Thursday we will discuss how we can best contribute.”
VVD leader Dilan Yesilkos said earlier this week his party would not join a Wilders-led government, saying the winner must now show he can command a majority.
On Friday, party leaders will meet and decide on a ‘probe’ who will ask each party what prospects they see and want in coalition talks.
Reporting by Bart Meijer, Charlotte van Campenhout, Anthony Deutsch, Johnny Cotton, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Petra Viskol in Enscheid; Additional reporting by Alvis Armelini, Dominique Vidalan, Sudip Khar-Gupta; By Ingrid Melander; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Toby Chopra
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