Dutch anti-Islamist leader Geert Wilders scored major gains in local authority polls Thursday, making him a serious challenger for power in a June national election, preliminary results showed.
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 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.
Wilders, who has faced death threats, was under tight security at his rally Wednesday.
People had to pass through metal detectors and security officers patted everyone down for concealed weapons.
“There are many Muslims who want to take part in the community, but there is a percentage who want to make problems,” said bus driver Theo Verstappen, 53.
“Those who make problems are not being dealt with properly. It’s not too much to ask that people who come here share our values.”