The PVV Wins in Almere

The Netherlands went to the polls today to vote in municipal elections, and the early returns indicate that the PVV did extremely well in Almere. The turnout was 56%, and higher than that in the two municipalities where Geert Wilders’ party fielded candidates. According to Dutch News:

Some 56% of the people eligible to vote in Wednesday’s general election bothered to do, pundits said shortly after the polls closed at 9pm.

Four years ago, turnout was 58%, according to market research group Synovate, which has been monitoring voter behaviour all day.

In the Hague and Almere, the only two places where Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam PVV party is contesting the local vote, turnover was higher than in 2006.

In Amsterdam and Rotterdam, however, turnout was forecast to be well below the national average.

The PVV appears to be in the lead in Almere:

The Freedom Party of prominent anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders was leading handily with a quarter of the votes counted in the medium-sized city of Almere, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of Amsterdam.

And according to Radio Netherlands:
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Geert Wilders’ Anti-Islam Party Makes Major Gains

The anti-Islam Freedom Party of far-right politician Geert Wilders has made major gains in local elections held in the Netherlands. Taking part in two cities it has become the largest party in Almere and the second largest in The Hague.

Mr Wilders was visibly buoyed by the results and was characteristically combative saying this was the first step in the upcoming campaign for parliamentary elections.

“The national campaign begins today in Almere and The Hague, tomorrow in all of the Netherlands… On 9 June, we’ll conquer the Netherlands,” said Mr Wilders.

The fall of the Dutch cabinet and the upcoming campaign for parliamentary elections overshadowed Wednesday’s municipal elections in the Netherlands. The actual results for the nearly 400 municipal councils hardly seemed to matter. All interest was focused on the implications for the upcoming parliamentary race.

And even though it only took part in two municipalities it was clear the day’s big winner was the right-wing populist party of Geert Wilders.

Eye on the prize

And, of course, Geert Wilders now has his eye on the larger prize. The Freedom Party has profited more than any other from the fall of the Dutch cabinet ten days ago. The party currently has 9 seats in parliament (out of 150).

If voters had elected a new parliament on Wednesday, the Freedom Party would have won between 24 and 27 seats. In one poll, it would be the largest single party. If his party does that well come June, Geert Wilders could become the next prime minister.

The national opinion polls also indicate that forming the next coalition will be more difficult than ever. Dutch coalition governments are usually made up of two or three parties. The next coalition will likely need four or more parties to reach a majority in parliament.

Will he or won’t he?

Then there is the question of whether Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party can join a coalition. Many mainstream parties cannot imagine forming a coalition with the Freedom Party due to its extreme views.

And while Geert Wilders says he is ready to make the compromises necessary to form partnerships with other parties, he is as yet untested.

That will soon change. The Freedom Party will feel the pressure to govern in the two cities, Almere and The Hague, where they did so well in municipal elections. Just days before the election, Mr Wilders said a ban on Muslim headscarves in public places would be non-negotiable. No other party will accept such a ban.

In fact, the call generated protests on election day. In Almere and The Hague, dozens of people, men and women, Muslim and non-Muslim, came to vote wearing headscarves [See “Headscarf Men”].

Other parties

The two largest parties in the former coalition government both lost seats on municipal councils. The Labour Party and the Christian Democrats paid the price for three years of uneven governing.

Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, Christian Democrat, tried to make the best of the poor results. In reaction, he said, “Of course we wanted the results to be better, and our local candidates deserve better. But of course national events of the past two weeks played a role in these elections.”

Hat tip for the RNW story: Steen.

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