AMSTERDAM - Controlling the fate of a weakened coalition government, controversial anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders has stoked Muslim and immigrants' fears for the price he might ask for his support for the government's budget cuts.
"It is threatening," said Ahmet Azdural, director of Turkish lobby group IOT which was set up to promote minority issues, told Reuters on Friday, March 23.
"In the last 10 years, the climate has really changed for immigrants and people who are different."
A member of Wilders' Freedom Party announced this week he would quit the party in a move that would further weaken the coalition's hold on power.
Lawmaker Hero Brinkman said he had quit because Wilders allowed too little democracy inside the party, and disagreed with Wilders' launch of a website which asks the public to post complaints about foreign workers.
Brinkman said he would continue to support the coalition from outside the Freedom Party, but he stopped short of pledging unconditional backing for the new budget cuts.
The loss of majority support will make it tougher for Rutte, of the conservative Liberal VVD party, to shrink the budget deficit in ongoing talks on spending cuts with Wilders and the main coalition partner, the Christian Democratic CDA.
Listing his price for coalition support, Wilders is expected to adopt a tougher line on asylum-seekers and immigrants, particularly Muslims.
"Wilders is a power player," said Maurice de Hond, who runs a Dutch polling agency.
"He can pull the plug on the cabinet."
He had earlier stated that he wants the Netherlands to go further in curbing immigration if he's to agree to up to 16 billion euros ($21.10 billion) of budget cuts.
"We want to come to an agreement but not at any price," Wilders told reporters earlier this month.
Analysts warned that Wilders anti-immigrants rhetoric has hurt the Netherlands' image abroad and drawn strong criticism from the European Commission.
"Don't underestimate the way he is pushing around (immigration minister) Gerd Leers, Andre Krouwel, political analyst at VU University Amsterdam, told Reuters.
The anti-Polish website is an example of how he limits the government's collaboration in Europe.
"It's symbolic, it impacts public opinion," he added.
Wilders' party, the third-largest in parliament, is the minority coalition government's key ally, providing crucial support when the government needs a majority to pass legislation.
Since storming onto the political scene in 2004, Wilders has made a significant mark.
He has influenced Dutch immigration policy and set the tone of public debate, whether on Muslims and burqas or bailouts and the euro, in what once would have been regarded as politically incorrect language.
Ahead of last year's general elections, Wilders' anti-immigrant party campaigned to "stop the Islamization of the Netherlands", and the building of new mosques.
His party's anti-Islam campaigns, however, have helped it make its biggest gains since Wilders has founded it in 2006.
To end current political stalemate, Wilders is expected to push for tougher citizenship criteria, cuts to benefits for immigrants and asylum-seekers, or a ban on new mosques.
"The Netherlands is now known as hardline when it comes to immigration and minorities in society," Azdural, the IOT director, told Reuters.
"Since Wilders supports the cabinet, all the ministers are careful to nuance their policies because they can feel Wilders breathing down their necks."