Dutch parties tackle tricky coalition talks after Wilders’ shock poll win By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Dutch far-right politician and leader of the PVV party, Geert Wilders gestures as he meets with members of his party at the Dutch Parliament, after the Dutch parliamentary elections, in The Hague, Netherlands November 23, 2023. REUTERS/Yves He

By Toby Sterling and Bart H. Meijer

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch party leaders meet on Friday for the first time since anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders won Wednesday’s elections to begin the difficult and lengthy process of building a coalition.

Beating all predictions, Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) won 37 seats out of 150, well ahead of 25 for a joint Labour/Green ticket and 24 for the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

That means the anti-EU, far-right veteran politician will have first pick at trying to build a coalition.

Wilders’ election win led to protests in several cities. Muslim organisations said they were worried about their treatment under a possible Wilders government, while environmental groups including Greenpeace said they were worried he would gut environmental policies.

But Wilders cannot govern alone and will need to convince at least two or three parties to join him, with VVD and New Social Contract (NSC), a centrist upstart party, the most likely candidates.

They are both largely pro-EU and have both made clear membership is non-negotiable, as is respect for religious freedom and rule of law, to join in what would be the Netherlands’ first far-right led government.

“As far as I can see, I dare to say this is not going to be the most easy formation we’ve ever had,” NSC leader Pieter Omtzigt said, adding that remarks he made on election night had been wrongly interpreted as a guarantee he was willing to join a coalition under Wilders.

In what will just be the first step of a very lengthy process, party leaders meet at 10.30 a.m. (0930 GMT) as they start looking around to see if there are grounds to contemplate coalition talks and with whom.

The Dutch are no strangers to long talks to build a coalition. Last time, that took a record-breaking 299 days.

Should Wilders’ efforts eventually fail, other parties could try to build a more centrist coalition without him. New elections are the final option if no coalition deal can be reached.

Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz, Rutte’s successor at the helm of the VVD, made clear she wouldn’t rush.

“There were two big winners in the elections, PVV and NSC. So that’s where responsibility lies for taking the initiative,” she said.

Among smaller parties, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (Boer Burger Beweging – BBB) said it would be willing to govern with Wilders.

Its seven seats in the lower house of parliament wouldn’t be needed for a majority there, but it holds a large number of seats in the senate, which has the power to block legislation.

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