Anti-Islam MP could join new Dutch coalition

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The Independent Online

Voters seeking fiscal discipline and tighter immigration laws appear set to back a new right-wing government in a national election today, and may even double their support for the anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders.

The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, an immigrant-wary, free-market party that has not led a government in nearly 100 years, has taken a commanding lead in the polls.

That positions its leader, Mark Rutte, 43, to be a potential prime minister and form the Netherlands' next cabinet and he has not ruled out bringing Mr Wilders into a governing coalition. The country's fourth election since 2002 comes after the Labour Party brought down Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's centrist government in March over its refusal to extend the Dutch military contribution to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan has barely been mentioned in the three-month campaign, as budget cuts rose swiftly up the agenda and immigration remained a key issue.

Mr Wilders, the maverick politician who denounces Islam as a fascist religion, seized the spotlight early with a programme that included a tax on headscarves worn by Muslim women.

At one time, his four-year-old Freedom Party led the polls, but fell back to fourth place after attention shifted to the financial crisis and demands to cut the country's deficit, which is predicted to run at 6.3 per cent of gross domestic product this year.