Voters topple Dutch government

June 10th, 2010 - 10:20 am ICT by IANS  

The Hague, June 10 (DPA) Dutch voters opted for a change of government in the parliamentary elections Wednesday, official projections showed in the first national elections to take place in Europe since the Greek debt crisis hit the continent.
The liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the social democratic Labour Party lead the pack, each picking up 31 seats in the 150-seat parliament, but the surprise winner looked to be the far-right party led by Islamophobe Geert Wilders.

His Party for Freedom (PVV) increased its showing in parliament to 22 seats from a previous nine mandates, putting it ahead of the former ruling Christian Democrats.

The Christian Democratic Appeal appeared headed to a historic low of 21 seats in parliament, down from 41. Opinion polls before the vote had predicted defeat for the CDA, which led the previous ruling coalition under Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

Balkenende resigned as party chief after the results came in, saying he accepted full responsibility for the party’s poor showing. He will continue to serve as prime minister until a new government can be formed.

The PVV looks to become the third-largest party in parliament, and it may be difficult for other parties to build a coalition without them. The party’s programme includes an immigration freeze for Muslims and a reduction of social aid programmes.

“We are the biggest winners of these elections,” Wilders told his celebrating supporters. “One and a half million Dutch voted for us and for more security, less crime and less Islam.”

Labour’s leader Job Cohen congratulated Wilders: “We must respect the growth of the PVV.”

Cohen’s party had earlier ruled out any coalition with Wilders, and he cautioned that all results must be officially tabulated Thursday before a government could be formed.

VVD head Mark Rutte said Wilders’ showing was impressive.

Muslim groups expressed concern.

“The constant mud slinging on certain groups in society does not contribute to a harmonic life together,” said Driss el-Boujoufi of the Dutch Morrocan Muslim organization.

The election had been largely dominated by talk of the European debt crisis and deficits. The pro-business VVD party has been pushing severe budget austerity measures that are to include cuts to generous social programmes.

Among the smaller parties, the Green Left Party increased from seven to 11 seats, the left-liberal Democrats 66 party took 10 seats, up from three, and the Socialist Party fell from 25 to 16 seats.

Results could still shift, making it clearer whether either the VDD or the Labour Party would have an edge in forming a government.

If VVD leader Mark Rutte becomes prime minister, he would be the first liberal to lead the country in nearly 100 years. He could then be part of a coalition with the CDA and VVD.

A coalition of leftist parties was not in the offing as all polls showed they would be unable to gain a majority in parliament.

Given the broad political spectrum in the Netherlands, governments can often only rule in coalitions. A majority of at least 76 is needed to form a government.

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