Once a country renowned for tolerance of minorities of all stripes, the Netherlands now risks being known for an ugly debate over its growing Muslim population. As preliminary results emerged from general elections on Wednesday November 22nd, it became clear that a previously insignificant far-right party, the Party For Freedom, may claim as many as nine seats in a parliament of 150. The party had campaigned for a halt to all immigration, and in particular was hostile towards Muslims, calling for a ban on the building of religious schools and mosques and for a ban on veils worn by Muslim women.
At its head is Geert Wilders, a man seen by some as the heir to Pim Fortuyn – a populist politician and outspoken critic of the 1m-strong Muslim population in the Netherlands, whose anti-immigrant party won 26 seats in parliament shortly after he was murdered in 2002. On Wednesday Mr Wilders told Dutch television that “we need more decency in this country, more education and less Islam”. He is unlikely to form any part of the new coalition government, which will be led by the moderate Christian Democratic Alliance. But he may yet influence policy.