Geert Wilders party scores big in local elections

Controversial Dutch MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom party showed very well in two local elections yesterday, setting the stage for a run for power by Wilders' party in the national elections to be held in June.


In the first test of public opinion since the collapse of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's coalition government last month, Wilders's Freedom Party (PVV) led in the city of Almere and was second in The Hague.

The results came on top of an opinion poll showing that the PVV, which campaigns against Muslim immigration as its main platform, would win the most seats -- 27 in the 150-member Dutch parliament -- in the June 9 election.

That would make it tough for Balkenende's Christian Democrats, projected to win one seat less, to forge a strong coalition without Wilders. Months of talks between parties, and the resulting policy vacuum, could threaten a fragile economic recovery and cast doubt on the scope of planned budget cuts.

The popularity of Wilders, who compares Islam to fascism and the Koran to Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf," has dented the image of the Netherlands as a country that has often portrayed itself in the past as a bastion of tolerance.

The PVV has been pitching its policies to a nation of 16 million that is turning increasingly inward as the economy struggles and social tensions rise. There are nearly 1 million Muslims in the Netherlands.

"The leftist elite still believes in multi-culturalism, coddling criminals, a European super-state and high taxes," Wilders told cheering supporters at a rally in Almere after polling ended Wednesday.

"But the rest of the Netherlands thinks differently. That silent majority now has a voice," he said.

The way the Dutch media portrays Wilder - a far right fringe MP, a xenophobe, a bigot - is not resonating with a lot of the population. They see their values being trashed by recent immigrants and don't like the way the Dutch government bends over backwards to accommodate them.

Watch as the other parties start to make soothing noises to pretend to address the concerns of Wilders' supporters. The Freedom Party is still a small party and co-opting their message will be a priority as the elections approach.