(Editor’s note: Corrects paragraph 11)
(CNSNews.com) – Six years after launching a one-person campaign, the Dutch lawmaker whose warnings about radical Islam have stoked controversy worldwide on Thursday was set to be a possible kingmaker in the next coalition government.
Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) shot to third place in the 150-seat Tweede Kamer, or lower house of parliament, increasing its representation from nine seats to 24, according to preliminary results from Wednesday’s general election.
The result – considerably better than the Freedom Party’s poll figures during the election campaign – will shock Muslims in Europe and beyond who view Wilders as an archetype “Islamophobe” due to his outspoken criticism.
The center-right, pro-business VVD was sitting on 31 seats early Thursday and the center-left Labor on 30, while the big loser was the Christian Democrats (CDA) of Jan Peter Balkenende, prime minister for the past eight years, which saw its number of seats slashed from 41 to 21. Balkenende resigned as CDA leader overnight.
The remaining seats went to six other parties.
The early election was triggered in February by Labor, which refused to extend the Dutch military contribution to the Afghanistan campaign, in the process bringing down Balkenende’s center-right coalition.
If the interim results hold, VVD leader Mark Rutte will likely have the first shot at cobbling together a coalition totaling more than 75 seats, which probably will require making policy compromises with ideological rivals.
As Labor has ruled out joining any coalition that includes Wilders, one possible combination would be VVD-Labor along with a couple of smaller leftist parties.
But Wilders said his party cannot be ignored in the negotiations.
“We really want to be part of government, we want to participate,” he told reporters, predicting that other parties would have to take his Freedom Party seriously. “I don’t think other parties can escape us.”
Although many Dutch commentators wrote him off as a kook, Wilders’ evidently found considerable support for his appeals to “Stop the Islamization of the Netherlands.”
Formerly a VVD lawmaker, Wilders split with the party in 2004 because he opposed its support for Turkey joining the European Union.
He served the remainder of his term as an independent until November 2006 elections when, to the surprise of many observers, his newly-formed Freedom Party won nine seats, making it the fifth-biggest in parliament.
And the support base continued growing, even as Wilders was stoking outrage with his views.
The Netherlands reportedly has have the second-largest per capita Muslim population in western Europe, after France. About six percent of the population – one million out of a total of 16 million – is Muslim, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin.
Inter-communal relations took a turn for the worse when a Dutch-Moroccan extremist in 2004 shot and stabbed to death Theo Van Gogh, a provocative filmmaker who had focused his criticism on Islam.
A Somalia-born Dutch lawmaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script of a short Van Gogh movie dealing with the oppression of women in Islamic societies, received death threats and ultimately moved to the United States.
Wilders himself has faced death threats, and has lived with round-the-clock security protection for six years.
In 2007 he called the Koran a “fascist” text that should be outlawed in the Netherlands, in the same way as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is banned there. He said the appeal was prompted by a violent attack days earlier on an Iranian-born Dutch politician who had set up a support group for people who had renounced Islam.
The following year Wilders released a documentary film entitled Fitna, which interspersed passages from the Koran with footage of terror attacks and jihadists inciting violence. Muslims around the world protested.
Now he faces criminal charges for allegedly “inciting hatred and discrimination,” with the trial set to proceed in October.
Less immigration, less Islam’
Wilders has featured prominently in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)’s annual reports on “Islamophobia,” which called his comments on the Koran “the most glaring instance” of the use of freedom of expression “to legitimize vilification of Islam and discrimination of Muslims.”
The reports have expressed concern that “other right wing extremist politicians in Europe” were following “Wilders style,” in order to win political support.
As contentious as Wilders’ views are, they clearly appeal to a sizeable proportion of his compatriots; his opinion poll figures jumped both after the ban-the-Koran furor and again after an appeal court early last year ruled that he should go on trial. The trend was confirmed in Wednesday’s election.
Speaking to celebrating supporters in the town of Scheveningen late Wednesday, Wilders called it a “glorious day for the Netherlands.”
“Today almost 1.5 million people have voted for the PVV and for our agenda of hope and optimism. Today all these people voted for a better and stronger Netherlands, for more security and less crime, for less immigration and less Islam.”
Thanking thousands of party volunteers for their efforts during the campaign he said that from inauspicious beginnings six years ago in a back room of the parliament building, “it seems that we have now become the third party in the Netherlands. That is a monumental result.”