Voters in the Netherlands have continued a Europe-wide shift to the political right by endorsing a pro-business party in the country’s parliamentary elections–and also giving a surge of suport to the far right.
The center-right VVD party claimed victory and immediately pledged to cut government spending and get tough on immigration.
The party leader and possible Prime Minster in waiting, Mark Rutte, called the win a “splendid success.”
“It appears as if for the first time in our history the VVD has become the largest party in the Netherlands,” Mr Rutte told chanting supporters in the seaside town of Scheveningen.
With most of the votes counted his party currently leads the Labor party by one seat.
It means the next few weeks will be spent horse trading over a number of coalition permutations.
Labor’s leader, Job Cohen, said the election was still too close to call.
“It’s very exciting. But the real result is still to come, and it could go either way.”
It’s conceivable that Mr Cohen could become PM if Mr Rutte fails to find enough support for his coalition.
The other winner of the night was the controversial, platinum haired Geert Wilders.
His anti-Islam Freedom Party was given a massive boost by voters and came third in the poll.
He has increased his number of seats from 9 to 24.
A position in the cabinet for him is now a possibility. Wilders said he was willing to accept compromises in order to secure a seat at the top table.
Kees Berghuis, Hague bureau chief for RTL 4Holland, told Sky News: “(Wilders) has a strong hand in negotiations as he is the third party. He is THE winner of the elections.
“A lot of people don’t want to negotiate with him but they will have to now–he has grown too big.
“He had one (non-negotiable) ‘break point’–he wouldn’t raise the retirement age. But he has just dropped it as he desperately wants to be a part of the government.”
Other parties may try “to shove us aside, but we must be taken seriously. Nobody in The Hague can bypass the PVV anymore,” he said.
The governing Christian Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat, dropping to 21 seats–nearly half its current strength–and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told supporters he was leaving politics.
The most likely outcome though appears to be a centrist coalition with VVD and Labor combining with two smaller parties on the left.
In theory Wilders and his Freedom Party could play a role but his polarizing stances have made him morally repugnant to other parties.
He is currently under hate speech prosecution for comparing Islam to Nazism and for calling for a ban on the Quran.
The swing to the right in Holland follows a trend across Europe.
The UK dumped Labour last month–Germany and France are also governed by centre right parties.