A majority of Dutch Christian Democrats have voted in support of forming a coalition government backed in parliament by Geert Wilders' anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV).
At a party conference, 68 percent voted in favour of cooperation with the PVV, 32 percent against. A record 4,500 members attended the gathering. The Christian Democrats intend to form a minority coalition with the right-wing VVD with parliamentary support by the PVV.
Freedom of religion
A number of prominent Christian Democrats spoke out against any form of cooperation with the PVV. They include two former prime ministers, past and present cabinet ministers and two current MPs.
They argued that the PVV discriminates people for their religion and skin colour whereas the CDA aims to bring people together. Former Prime Minister Piet de Jong said "freedom of religion" was being sold. Another former primer minister, Dries van Agt, said the CDA would "mutilate" itself if it cooperated with the PVV.
The issue is proving so contentious that is has been threatening to split the party in two. The CDA was founded 30 years ago, when three Catholic and Protestant parties decided to join forces.
Two caretaker ministers, Camiel Eurlings and Piet Hein Donner, urged the party to vote in favour of the coalition agreement and prevent the party from splitting in two. Mr Donner said it was feasible to cooperate with Mr Wilders and, at the same time, "build bridges".
Party leader Maxime Verhagen, responsible for brokering the coalition agreement, hailed the heated debates as a "feast of democracy". Opponents accused the party leadership of disregarding the 32-percent minority and considering the new government a done deal.
A definitive vote on the coalition agreement will be taken next week by the parliamentary party. Under the constitution, MPs are free to vote without any constraints.
Two MPs, Kathleen Ferrier en Ad Koppejan, voted against the coalition agreement at the party conference. Ms Ferrier described the PVV as "one-issue movement". Mr Koppejan urged the CDA not to allow Mr Wilders to continue inciting hatred against Islam.
The two MPs have not yet said whether they will support or reject the coalition agreements when the vote is taken by the parliamentary party on Tuesday.
After the vote at the party conference, several key Christian Democrats said "a substantial minority" opposed cooperating with the PVV. They encouraged the two MPs to represent the opposition among the party members within the parliamentary party and vote against the coalition agreement.