- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2010

Three right-wing political parties in the Netherlands began formal coalition talks Monday, exactly two months after Dutch voters went to the polls, with the aim of establishing the country’s first minority government since World War II.

Under the formula being discussed, the election victor — the austerity-minded Liberal Party — would join forces with the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal, and the two coalition partners would govern with the outside support of the anti-Islam Freedom Party. Together, the three parties command a bare majority, with 76 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The parties have agreed to observe a media blackout during the talks, and a Liberal spokesman declined to comment on the proceedings to The Washington Times.

“We’re usually a very open country,” he said with a laugh. “But not during coalition negotiations.”

Liberal Party Chairman Ivo Opstelten, who is leading the talks, has said he expects a resolution in about three weeks, though delays are possible, given the Christian Democrats‘ resistance to many of the Freedom Party’s demands. In addition to calling for a stricter immigration policy, party leader Geert Wilders has also advocated a ban on the Koran, a headscarf tax and other measures aimed at the country’s growing Muslim minority.

“Coalition talks usually take a little bit of time in the Netherlands,” Dutch Ambassador to the United States Renee Jones-Bos said in an interview. “The [postwar] average is 87 days, and sometimes it has taken longer.

“And certainly the more complex the results of the election are, the more complex it is to find a coalition that can agree upon a government program. But all party leaders have said that in view of the economic situation, it’s important that we have a new cabinet as soon as possible. So I think there’s been a real sense of urgency.”

Ms. Jones-Bos noted that an alliance with the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Party had been the Liberals’ preferred option at the outset. But the Christian Democrats‘ initial refusal to join negotiations with Mr. Wilders forced Liberal leader Mark Rutte to pursue weeks of fruitless negotiations with Labor and two smaller left-wing parties.

The June 9 election yielded the most most fractious outcome in decades, with 10 parties winning a piece of the parliamentary pie and the largest of them taking in barely a fifth of the vote.

The Liberals won 31 out of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament, up from 22 seats in the 2006 elections. The Labor party — led by former Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen — won 30 seats, down from from 33. The Freedom Party won 24 seats, up from nine. And the Christian Democrats, led by then-Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende won 21 seats, down from 41.

Mr. Balkenende resigned as Christian Democrat leader after the vote.

The previous government, headed by the Christian Democrats and Labor, collapsed in February after Labor resigned when Mr. Balkenende — at the behest of President Obama and NATO — sought to renege on his promise of withdrawing the country’s 1,950-strong contingent from Afghanistan by this month.

The last Dutch troops departed on schedule last Sunday.

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