The first attempt to agree a framework for coalition talks after last week’s surge to the right by the Netherlands is in chaos, with disagreement at all levels over whether a majority or a minority government should be the aim – or whether the talks themselves are premature.
The big winner at the polls was Geert Wilders and his far-right Freedom Party, which took 37 seats in the 150-seat parliament. His jubilation was short-lived, however, because within hours his choice as “sherpa” for the negotiations was mired in allegations of financial fraud.
Veteran Freedom Party senator Gom van Strien (72) was forced to step down amid claims – which he denies – that he was involved in illegally transferring shares from a private company to an investment firm where they were held in his wife’s name.
Mr Wilders initially said he had been unaware of the shares row, that he still had confidence in Mr Van Strien, and that “there is no question of him being prosecuted, let alone convicted”.
However, just before he held his first exploratory meeting with the leaders of the three largest parties – Mr Wilders, Frans Timmermans of Labour-GreenLeft, and Dilan Yesilgöz, Mark Rutte’s successor as VVD leader – Mr Van Strien resigned from the job.
He was replaced by former Labour education minister Roland Plasterk, who resumed the “talks about talks” on Monday.
That was not the last post-election controversy for Mr Wilders. On Tuesday, he made a high-profile appearance in the seaside resort of Kijkduin, where local people are protesting at a decision to house 120 asylum seekers in a hotel.
Asked if his presence was appropriate, he replied: “I often attend similar meetings in towns flooded with asylum seekers who live in rooms with big televisions, with swimming pools, free food, drink and heating, things many Dutch people don’t have.”
Carolien van der Plas, founder of the BBB, the farmer-citizen protest party that says it may join a centre-right coalition with the Freedom Party, responded: “Personally, I would not have done that. I’d have said: let’s focus first on the coalition process.”
With the exploratory process now under way again under Mr Plasterk, the VVD has for the second time in a week said it will not enter a coalition this time round – but may support a minority Wilders-led government.
It’s a decision that’s dividing the party. Two former VVD ministers urged Ms Yesilgöv to change her mind and join a Wilders-led coalition, arguing: “People who are fearful of Wilders will rest easier if the VVD participates.”
By week’s end, the latest surprise was that Pieter Omtzigt, leader of New Social Contract, which won 20 seats, told Mr Plasterk that he wasn’t ready to discuss either a majority or a minority government. It was premature.
Instead he wants first to discuss “some of the big problems facing the Netherlands”, which range, he says, “from bad governance to financial insecurity, from migration to housing”. He also wanted more clarity on Mr Wilders’s policies.
Mr Wilders in turn accused Mr Omtzigt of “playing politics”.
“We need to sit down and talk – rather than ‘communicate’ over social media”, said Ms Van der Plas.
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