By Stephanie van den Berg
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Netherlands faces political disarray after the March 15 election as mainstream parties, diminished by losses of voters to nationalist leader Geert Wilders but refusing to work with him, struggle to forge a viable coalition.
Wilders, the anti-Islam, anti-EU firebrand running almost neck-and-neck with conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte, stands to double his seat total in parliament while the two coalition parties’ share is cut almost in half.
The political landscape is fragmenting after decades of stable consensus. Seven major parties will jostle for power and toil to find common ground on hot-button issues such as Muslim immigration, national identity and elderly care that have polarised the European Union nation of 17 million people.
The emerging prospect that the biggest party may not command more than some 25 seats in the 150-strong parliament, with Wilders and a slew of fringe parties hiving off votes from the centre, will complicate the building of a durable coalition.
“The Netherlands has always had a lot of smaller parties. But what is new here is that the so-called ‘big’ parties have become so small,” Radboud University political scientist Kristof Jacobs said.
The tried-and-true Dutch model of consensual stability could fray if no party secures a clear mandate to lead – a trend seen in other EU countries as eurosceptic populist movements have scooped up voters disenchanted by “establishment” parties.
The Netherlands may be heading for a period of political dysfunction similar to that seen in neighbouring Belgium, where it took four parties five months to assemble a coalition in 2014 – an improvement on the 541-day formation talks of 2010-2011.
Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) had led pre-election polls since November before slowing slightly to second place by Monday with nearly 15 percent of the vote, just one percent behind Rutte’s conservative VVD party.
… Wilders’ calls to ban Muslim immigration, mosques and the Koran and take the Netherlands out of the EU have drawn many voters who have soured on open borders and multiculturalism, seeing them as threats to national identity.
But he gained a reputation for unreliability among other parties after triggering the collapse of a minority government in 2012. “Most parties do not seem inclined to risk repeating that experience” by teaming up with Wilders, said Bos.
“The chances of a government that includes Wilders are very slim,” said Hans Goslinga, political commentator for the Christian newspaper Trouw. He predicted a centrist coalition, though possibly a minority one, between the conservatives, Christian Democrats and the liberal Democrats 66.
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(Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)