FAR-RIGHT DUTCH PARTY WINS SEAT IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT

dutch-mar-4
Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders speaks to supporters in Almere,
where early results indicate his Freedom party has won its first seat
in local government.

By Ian Traynor
The London Guardian

The Dutch far-right, anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders has won major gains in local elections in the Netherlands, with preliminary results today indicating he may dominate the political scene in the run-up to the general election in three months.

Yesterday’s poll, 10 days after the centrist coalition government collapsed, was seen as a gauge of the public mood ahead of the national elections on 9 June.

Wilders last night claimed a massive victory, predicting: “We are going to conquer the entire country … We are going to be the biggest party in the country.

“The leftist elite still believes in multiculturalism, coddling criminals, a European super-state and high taxes,” Wilders told cheering supporters at a rally in Almere. “But the rest of the Netherlands thinks differently. That silent majority now has a voice,” he said.

With almost 400 local authorities being contested, the focus was on only two areas – The Hague and Almere, in the centre of the country – because of Wilders’s campaign to establish his Freedom party in local government for the first time.

According to early results, he won in Almere and came second to the Dutch Labour party in The Hague, the only two places the Freedom party was running because of a lack of resources and candidates.

Wilders, who likens the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and wants Muslim immigrants deported, is bidding to win the general election in June, with the latest opinion polls predicting he might take 27 of the 150 seats in the Netherlands’ highly fragmented political scene.

That would make it tough for the Christian Democrats, projected to win one seat less, to forge a strong coalition without Wilders. Months of talks between parties, and the resulting policy vacuum, could threaten a fragile economic recovery and cast doubt on the scope of planned budget cuts.

Wilders is expected at the House of Lords tomorrow on an invitation from the UK Independence party for a screening of his incendiary anti-Islamic film, Fitna, after the Home Office barred him from entering Britain last year. The ban has been rescinded.

Yesterday the civic halls in The Hague and Almere were under heavy security. In both places and elsewhere scores of men and women turned up to vote wearing headscarves, in protest against Wilders’ demand for a tax on Muslim headgear and for the wearing of headscarves to be banned in all public buildings.

While local elections are usually a subdued affair focused on issues such as cycle paths and rubbish collection, yesterday’s poll was dominated by immigration and Afghanistan.

The coalition government of Christian and social democrats fell 10 days ago because the Labour party, the junior partner, refused to extend the presence of 2,000 Dutch troops in Afghanistan, who are to be withdrawn from August.

It was the first Nato government to fall because of the war and the collapse looks likely to end the career of Jan Peter Balkenende, the Christian Democrat prime minister who has been in office for eight years. The Afghan pullout is popular and Labour has risen in the polls as a result.

Turnout in The Hague and Almere was several points up on four years ago, suggesting that the Freedom party would do well. Almere is a new town with a population of nearly 200,000 and hardly any immigrants.

In European elections last year the Freedom party came second, trouncing Labour in its heartland cities of the western and northern coasts.

Polls predict Wilders could triple his vote at the general election.

See Related: WORLD POLITICS

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