By Toby Sterling and Bart H. Meijer
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Populist politician Geert Wilders’ hopes of establishing a right-wing government in the Netherlands hit an early hurdle on Friday as the party whose support he needs most ruled out directly joining a new cabinet.
“Voters have spoken and they have told us to skip this round,” said Dilan Yesilgoz, the new leader of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party, which lost seats and finished third in Wednesday’s election.
“However we would make a centre-right cabinet possible. We will support constructive proposals, so this would be a form of outside support,” Yesilgoz said.
Wilders, the veteran anti-EU, anti-immigration politician known for his bleach-blond hair, called Yesilgoz’s remarks “very disappointing”.
Beating all predictions, Wilders booked major gains in the election on an anti-immigration platform, taking a projected 38 seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament, well ahead of the 25 seats secured by a joint Labour/Green ticket and 24 for the VVD.
But to gain a majority he will need to work with at least two more moderate parties which have said he must give up many of the anti-Islam policies he is best known for before they will consider working with him.
Coalition talks are expected to take months.
Wilders’ election win led to protests in several cities. Muslim organisations said they were worried about their treatment under a possible Wilders government, while groups including Greenpeace said they were worried he would roll back environmental policies.
Party leaders met on Friday for the first time since the vote to discuss the outcome with the chairwoman of parliament, who said the discussion had been “constructive”. Wilders named Gom van Strien, a member of his own party in the Dutch Senate, to the position of “verkenner”, or “scout”, to investigate possible coalitions.
Another potential Wilders’ partner, New Social Contract (NSC), an upstart party which took 20 seats on a reform platform, has said Wilders would have to drop threats to leave the European Union and change clauses of the Dutch constitution forbidding religious discrimination before it could consider cooperation.
“I dare to say this is not going to be the most easy formation we’ve ever had,” NSC leader Pieter Omtzigt said, adding there was no guarantee he would be willing to join a coalition under Wilders either.
Early positions in coalition talks often shift when talks drag on. Talks after the previous Dutch election in March 2021 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.
Among smaller parties, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (Boer Burger Beweging – BBB) said it would be willing to govern with Wilders. Leader Caroline van der Plas arrived for the talks in style, riding in a green tractor.
She told reporters on Thursday she expected Wilders would drop the most objectionable parts of his party’s platform in order to win support.
“Wilders has promised to be milder, now he has to show it,” she said.
The BBB’s 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.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart Meijer; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Nick Macfie, Toby Chopra and Susan Fenton)