THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch firebrand populist Geert Wilders on Monday accused Prime Minister Mark Rutte of behaving like a "dictator" by ruling out a coalition with Wilders' Party for Freedom after national elections on March 15.
Wilders is riding high in opinion polls, but appears increasingly unlikely to be able to form a majority government in this nation whose voting system all but guarantees coalitions.
Rutte said in an interview Sunday that the chance of his center-right Liberal Party forming a coalition with Wilders' party was "zero."
The prime minister was the latest mainstream politician to rule out working with Wilders, meaning that the fiery lawmaker who wants to drastically rein in immigration and lead the Netherlands out of the European Union appears unlikely to lead the country's next government.
But Wilders remained defiant.
"Rutte's comments are the remarks of an arrogant leader in disarray. Rutte is afraid," Wilders told The Associated Press. "Luckily not he but the Dutch voters are in charge on March 15, so all is still possible."
It is not only Rutte who is distancing himself from Wilders, who brand of populism has been compared to that of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
Over the weekend, Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer called Wilders a "radicalized" former member of Rutte's own party and said the socialists would "never ever" work with him.
And a day before Rutte's comments, Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher said his center-left Labor Party must "offer a social, decent alternative" to a possible coalition between Wilders and Rutte.
But that possible coalition seems further away than ever after Rutte said on Dutch television that Wilders' economic policies were more left-wing than those of the socialists while also accusing him of undermining "the values and freedoms of Dutch society" with his rhetoric.
The deep divisions within Dutch politics mean that whatever the outcome on March 15, it is likely to usher in a complex and possibly protracted period of coalition building as parties seek alliances that will allow them to rule with a majority in both houses of the Dutch parliament.