Minor parties expected to play a major role in forming a coalition government.

The animals are on the march.

When traditional politics fractures, new parties come to the fore. And in the Netherlands, the Party for the Animals is in the running for the March 15 national election.

While Geert Wilders' Freedom Party and Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberals fight it out for first place, the need for coalition partners means the Animal party could play a role in creating a working majority needed to form a government.

The rise in nationalist sentiment, which has bolstered groups such as the UK Independence Party (UKip) and Marine Le Pen's National Front in France, threatens to disrupt the conventional order in the Netherlands, one of the core founding members of the European Union. A new governing coalition that successfully excludes the anti-Islam, anti-immigration Freedom Party - as the mainstream groups have promised - could require as many as six separate alliance members to reach a 76-seat majority in the Dutch lower house of Parliament. That's where Marianne Thieme comes in.


Thieme, head of the Party for the Animals, which supports animal welfare and the environment, said that the traditional parties will have to court a smaller faction like hers to make the electoral math work in putting a government in place.

"And that's a very comfortable position because we can stay committed to our ideals and from that perspective we will look at the propositions made," she said in an interview last week in her office in The Hague.

Wilders' Freedom Party and Rutte's Liberals are both expected to take 22 seats in the election, according to a EenVandaag poll published on Tuesday. The Party for the Animals would get seven seats, the most in the group's history and up from the two it currently controls.

After the election, the lower house of the 150-seat Parliament may be made up of as many as 14 different parties. And with the four mainstream groups - the Liberals, the Christian Democrats, the D66 party and Labour - expected to gain 70 seats in the ballot, a theoretical coalition of those groups would only need one additional small party, such as the Animals, to form a ruling alliance.

The political system in the Netherlands has a low election threshold, with about 60,000 votes translating into a seat in the legislative body, Andre Krouwel, a professor of political science at Amsterdam's VU University, said in a telephone interview. If the Dutch system required a threshold similar to that in other countries, "five out of the current 11 parties wouldn't even be in Parliament now", he said.

Given the vagaries of the process, that means the biggest political group could be shut out of the new government, an eventuality that's come to pass three times since World War II. That opens the door for new parties.

"The Party for the Animals is an agenda-setting party and not a party that is driven by power or ruling the country," Krouwel said. "The Dutch aren't afraid to try something new and give a new party a chance."

Thieme, the only woman in Parliament how is leading a party going into the elections, said she'd only be willing to work with groups that accept her organisation's pillars, such as attention to the environment and economic change. Like-minded parties include the Christian Union, the Greens, the Labour Party, the Democrats and, to a lesser extent, the Socialists, she said.

"We would expect the new coalition to work seriously on climate change," Thieme, 44, said.

"We must step away from the focus on economic growth as a solution for all the problems."

And while the party, which Thieme helped found in 2002, places animal rights as one of its central tenets, its interests are diverse. The group is also against free-trade deals and would like to research ways to get out of the common currency.

But the organisation's varied interests could aid the coalition-building process, she said.

"As we've seen in the past, small political parties can be the hinge point in the formation," Thieme said in an interview on national broadcaster NOS. "And if we were asked, we would come and negotiate."

- Bloomberg