News Analysis: Netherlands heads towards broad coalition excluding far-right populist

2017-03-14 05:39:38 GMT2017-03-14 13:39:38(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Jesse Wieten

THE HAGUE, March 14 (Xinhua) -- One day before the Dutch elections, the Netherlands seems on its way to complete a difficult formation of a broad government coalition excluding the right wing populist Party for Freedom (PVV), experts told Xinhua.

Wednesday's Dutch parliamentary election sees a total of 28 parties bidding for 150 seats in the lower house.

The latest poll by Peilingwijzer showed that the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) (24-28 seats) of current Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the PVV (20-24) were in the lead, followed by the conservative Christian Democrats (CDA)(18-20) and the centrist Democrats 66 (D66)(17-19).

The stakes are high for Rutte's VVD to return as the largest party, although their seats could be well down from 40 in the outgoing lower chamber.

"I'm fighting very hard to win these elections," Rutte told reporters as he campaigned in The Hague on Sunday. "Now we are ahead in the polls, but still I think we should gain some more seats."

According to political historian Koen Vossen and Carla van Baalen, director of the Dutch Center for Parliamentary History, a coalition of the VVD, the CDA, the D66 and one or two more parties is the most likely combination, since the PVV of Dutch far-right populist Geert Wilders has already been excluded by others.

Rutte told media earlier that the chance of cooperation with the PVV is zero percent. Six other parties with over 10 seats in the polls also dismissed the possibility of working together with the anti-Islam and anti-Europe party.

"I do not expect a U-turn from those parties," as they disagreed with the views of the PVV and perceived it as unreliable, said Vossen.

However, ignoring the PVV is not easy, as the far-right party vowing to "de-Islamicize" the Netherlands is gaining momentum.

Wilders kicked off his campaign in mid-February by making the notorious "scum" comment about Moroccan migrants, and has vowed to shut down mosques and pull the Netherlands away from the European Union, or, as he put it, "make the Netherlands ours again."

Although Wilders' remarks have sparked heated controversy both at home and abroad, he is riding high in opinion polls in the final run-up to the election.

According to the latest polls, this one-member party could garner 15.7 percent of the votes from the Netherlands' 12.7 million voters, making this smallest party the country's second largest party.

The PVV's likely win could be a barometer for the spreading power of populism in Europe. The French presidential election will kick off next month, with the far-right Marine Le Pen ahead in a recent poll. In September, Alternative for Germany, an eurosceptic party, is likely to win seats for the first time in the German federal parliament.

But it is also certain that the PVV has virtually no chance of forming a government, given the splintered political landscape.

Even if "the PVV becomes the biggest party, the talks with other parties will be short," said Vossen. "They will not cooperate."

Meanwhile, Vossen did not believe that a revolt by its supporters, as Wilders claimed last year, would happen if the PVV was neglected in negotiations for a future government.

"It is a one-man party. The PVV is Wilders... the party is not organized in such a way as to revolt," Vossen said.

With the exclusion of the PVV, the most important remaining question is which of the three leftist parties -- GroenLinks, the PvdA and the SP -- could work with the VVD, the CDA, and thee D66 to form a government.

"A left-wing government is not realistic," said Van Baalen. "The CDA does not want to be the only right-oriented party sitting in a leftist cabinet."

Apart from the rising far-right populist, Van Baalen noticed that, unlike the election in 2012 which mainly focused on how to pull the country out of the economic crisis, this year featured a multi-themed campaign, with attention split among issues like integration, immigration, education, security, health care and the EU.

Meanwhile, no issue has transcended others.

"It seems the campaign is mainly about the coalition formation," Van Baalen told Xinhua. "About who will govern and who will be the prime minister."

Making a coalition is also a matter of mutual confidence and trust by the related parties as well as others.

The process of government formation could take a few months. The last government formation lasted 54 days, while the Dutch record after the World War II was 208 days.

Although the silhouette of a future government with the VVD, the CDA, the D66 and one or two other parties is already visible, the formation will not be easy at all.

"This time is harder than the previous one," said Van Baalen."Complicated. All parties want to bring something of themselves into a government. The negotiations will be tough."

"This could take a while," said Vossen.