In results that held most of Europe and official Washington spellbound Wednesday, the Netherlands gave the populist Party for Freedom (PVV) the most seats in parliamentary elections and thus put the nation's most controversial politician in position to become prime minister.
Geert Wilders, Freedom Party chairman known for his opposition to the European Union, immigration, and aid to Ukraine, is expected to try to form the new government in a few weeks.
Near final results showed the Freedom Party defying the polls to win 35 seats in parliament — more than twice what it won in the last election. In followed by the left of center Labor/Green/Left coalition headed by former EU climate chief Frans Timmermans with 25 seats and the ruling center-right People's Party of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte 24 seats.
The newly formed New Social Contract (NSC) Party, designed to appeal to centrists tired with the political establishment, placed fourth with 20 seats.
"I expect that Geert Wilders, as the first place finisher, will be asked to form a government that a majority of the 150 members of parliament will support," said Pete Hoekstra, former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, who has known Wilders since the early 1990s.
Wilders, who has been excluded from government in previous elections even as his party placed second or third and is frequently likened to Donald Trump, is expected to sit down soon with People's Party leader Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius and NSC leader Pieter Omtzigt to try to form a coalition government.
Yesilgoz-Zegerius, while congratulating Wilders Wednesday night, ruled herself out from serving under him. She did not, however, rule out the People's Party from joining in a Wilders-led coalition.
"Clearly, the migration issue was decisive in the results of the election," Henk Jan van Schothorst, a member of the smaller Reformed Political Party (a Christian conservative party that won three seats in parliament), told Newsmax. "We had more than 1 million immigrants — most of them illegal — in the last 10 years and more than 200,000 this year. We cannot handle this, and it is a big reason we have a housing crisis with 390,000 households that don't have a home in the Netherlands."
The Rutte government, van Schothorst added, "always promised to do something about this but never did. And it finally became unendurable."
Wilders hit this hard and promised "zero immigration" into the Netherlands by closing the borders and deporting illegal immigrants.
Long known for no-punches-pulled anti-Islam rhetoric (he has presided over contests to draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and likened the Quran to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf"), Wilders toned it down for this campaign. In a strong performance in a televised debate Tuesday night, the Party of Freedom leader vowed to be a prime minister for all "regardless of their religion, background, sex, or whatever."
An admirer of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (who congratulated the Dutchman Wednesday night), Wilders has long criticized what he considers excesses of the EU and promised a "Nexit" — a national referendum on whether the Netherlands should remain in the EU.
Wilders has also vowed to stop the Rutte government's policy of providing arms to Ukraine, saying the Netherlands needs the weapons to defend its borders. Whether he can implement such a policy is unclear, since both the People's Party and the NSC are both strong Ukraine backers.
A decade ago, a "Prime Minister Geert Wilders" would have been unthinkable. But so would a "Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni" in Italy. Politics in modern Europe is genuinely unpredictable. And with traditional parties and politicians collapsing, the unthinkable happens with increasing frequency.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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