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Wilders Willing to Forgo Dutch Premiership to Advance Coalition Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Dutch election winner Geert Wilders has dropped his bid to become prime minister, after months of coalition talks following his shock win in November.

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On the cusp of becoming the Netherlands’ next leader, Wilders has instead been forced to step aside by his coalition partners, in a compromise to advance talks to form a right-wing cabinet. Previous efforts to forge alliances with rivals hit setbacks.

“I can only become prime minister if all parties in the coalition support it. That was not the case,” Wilders said in a post on social media platform X on Wednesday. “The love for my country and voter is great and more important than my own position,” he said.

His decision adds to the questions over the political direction of Europe’s fifth-largest economy, nearly four months after his election victory. The most likely outcome from here is a weak government that satisfies neither the disenchanted voters who rallied behind Wilders’ anti-immigrant platform, nor the mainstream forces trying to maintain a right-wing establishment.

Such an outcome would leave a key country lacking clear political direction at a moment when the dangers for Europe are mounting.

Leaders of the four coalition parties, including Wilders, have agreed to stay out of the next cabinet, Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, the center-right New Social Contract, or NSC, and the Farmer-Citizen Movement are instead in talks to form a so-called “extra-parliamentary cabinet” that is based on a less-binding coalition agreement, the broadcaster said.

A version of an extra-parliamentary cabinet was last seen in the Netherlands in the 1970s. It could include cabinet members who are not members of a political party and operates on a less-binding coalition agreement.

Under such a pact, despite being the leader of the largest party, Wilders would not ascend to the premiership. He may however make key decisions behind the scenes along with his three coalition partners, who will get to tap the new prime minister and other ministers. “I would like a right-wing cabinet,” Wilders said on X, reiterating his demands for less asylum and immigration.

Last month, Pieter Omtzigt, leader of NSC, walked out of the negotiations, arguing a majority cabinet was no longer a possibility for his party due to concerns about financial diligence and constitutional matters. Omtzigt, whose support is key for Wilders’ coalition plans, said the option remains for a minority cabinet, or preferably an extra-parliamentary cabinet.

Wilders then tapped Kim Putters, a former labor party senator and current head of the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands, as a lead negotiator to coordinate a new phase of the talks. Putters on Tuesday said the parties are ready to take the “next step” to form a new government, without providing details. He is slated to present a report on coalition talks to parliament on Thursday.

Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius, the new leader of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD, has also previously expressed support for an extra-parliamentary cabinet.

Wilders, who repeatedly said he wants to become the next prime minister of the country, adopted a milder stance during coalition talks, even withdrawing controversial proposals such as ban on the Koran.

In the elections, his Freedom Party won around 25% of parliamentary seats — more than any polls had predicted — making it the biggest party in the lower house. As negotiations drag on, latest polls indicate that support for him is growing.

“I will still become prime minister of the Netherlands,” Wilders wrote in another post on Wednesday. “With support from even more Dutch people. If not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow.”

(Updates with details throughout)

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