THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The center-right lawmaker whose new party is riding so high in polls ahead of next week's Dutch election that he could become a kingmaker in coalition talks said Thursday that he has fundamental differences with anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, whose party also is polling strongly.
With next Wednesday's vote shaping up as a neck-and-neck race, party leaders are already looking toward what could be protracted negotiations to form the next ruling coalition. The Dutch electoral system and the sheer number of parties involved — 26 at this election — virtually guarantee the need for coalition governments.
Pieter Omtzigt, who only formed his New Social Contract party over the summer, is very narrowly behind the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the polls. Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) is in fourth place.
A center-left bloc of the Labor Party and Green Left, led by former European Union climate tsar Frans Timmermans, is currently third in the polls.
Omtzigt made his name by campaigning on behalf of citizens caught up in government scandals and is calling for reform of the Dutch political system. He is expected to play a pivotal role in talks to form a new coalition after the vote.
He said that Wilders' anti-Islam policies go against freedoms of expression and religion that are enshrined in the Dutch constitution. One of Omtzigt's policy pledges is to create a constitutional court in the Netherlands that would be able to rule on government plans before they become law.
Answering questions submitted by voters to Dutch broadcaster NOS, Omtzigt was asked if he 100% ruled out working with Wilders' PVV party.
“The PVV rules itself out,” he answered.
His comments came after Wilders appeared this week to slightly back away from his strident anti-Islam program that includes bans on mosques and the Quran, by saying that other policies now are priorities.
Mainstream political parties have for years been wary of counting on Wilders' support since he withdrew his backing for Mark Rutte's first ruling coalition a decade ago, causing its collapse. Wilders' PVV was not part of that coalition but agreed to support it on key policies.
Omtzigt also said Thursday that it would be difficult for his party to work with the Labor-Green Left bloc due to those parties' tax and migration plans. Omtzigt has said he wants to significantly reduce all forms of migration to the Netherlands.