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Anti-Islam party to feature in Dutch minority government

Geert Wilders, whose anti-immigration party doubled its vote in June's elections, is set to play a key role in the new government. His party is to join the Netherland's first minority coalition since World War II.

Geert Wilders, leader of Dutch far-right party PVV

Geert Wilders, leader of Dutch far-right party Freedom Party

Seven weeks after the Dutch parliamentary elections, Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant Freedom Party (PPV), is poised to become a key voice in what could be the most conservative Dutch government in history.

On Sunday, the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) agreed on a minority coalition with the center-right Christian Democrats, backed on a case-by-case basis by the Freedom Party.

Dutch liberal party VVD leader Mark Rutte

Rutte's party won 31 seats, one more than the social democratic Labour Party

Mark Rutte, the leader of the VVD party and likely to be the next prime minister, said he sees enough similarities for cooperation.

"We discussed all the major issues, from budget cuts to security to migration. We haven't debated yet, but we have come to believe that there is enough trust between us to start negotiations," said Rutte.

Looming doubts

However, the Christian Democrats, the smaller of the two partners in the possible minority government, are struggling with the idea of being dependent on Wilders' whims.

Interim parliamentary leader Maxime Verhagen was left little choice after center-left coalition talks broke down.

"We are not going to just sweep the differences under the carpet, but rather, we must accept them. And we must accept that the partners will act in accordance with their principles," Verhagen said.

Many Christian Democrats have voiced their displeasure over the plans for a minority government: the former parliamentary president Weisglas accused the party leadership of selling out to Wilders. A regional party leader said the whole thing gave him a stomach ache.

Points of tension

The Christian Democratic Party has suffered a turbulent year. In February, the centrist coalition government between the Christian Democrats and the Labour Party collapsed when Labour refused to extend the Dutch contribution to the NATO force in Afghanistan, prompting a new election.

During the election campaigning, religious and cultural issues took a back seat to economic concerns, said Arjen Berkvens, the Director of the Alfred Mozer Stichting, an Amsterdam foundation linked to the Labor party. However, the role of Islam promises to be a point of tension between the Party for Freedom and the Christian Democrats.

Wilders has compared the Koran to "Mein Kampf" and blamed Islamic texts for inciting the September 11 terrorist attacks. He calls Islam a "political ideology" - a description the Christian Democrats oppose. The Christian Democrats also oppose Wilder's proposed ban on headscarves, which they regards as unconstitutional.

women wearing a niqab during a demonstration outside the Dutch parliament

Wilders has advocated for a 'headscarf tax' in the Netherlands

Chance for stability

Berkvens says that, all the same, the minority coalition could be a stable option - if Wilders can contain his divisive radicalism.

"The Christian Democrats and the liberals agree on almost all the social economic issues - changing the welfare state, introducing privatization of healthcare, so there will be no unstable situation regarding policies," Berkvens said.

Wilders' divisive statements about Islam make him something of a wild card. Yet for the time, Wilders seems eager to make the coalition work.

The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government

About 5% of the Dutch population is Muslim

"We will show that we are a reliable party, and that things can work," the 46-year-old Wilders said. "But we can also continue to say what we want. Our goal is that the government will be successful in making the Netherlands a better, stronger and safer country - with less immigration and asylum."

In the Netherlands, analysts are hopeful that a new minority coalition government could be official by the third Tuesday of September, the official opening of the Dutch political season. But even with the votes of Wilders' party, the minority government will have a majority of just one.

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Michael Lawton

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