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Pro-independence party tops Curacao vote but will have to form coalition to govern

A party that calls for Curacao to be completely independent of the Netherlands has topped parliamentary voting on the Dutch Caribbean island, according to results released Saturday, but it will still hold only five of 21 seats in Parliament.

The Sovereign People party led by Helman Wiels received 23 percent of the votes — 19,716 — to top the Movement for the Future of Curacao, led by former Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, which won 21 percent with 18,441 votes, and it also will have five seats.

Six other parties split the rest of the parliamentary vote on the island of about 140,000 people, so any government will have to be a coalition. That is likely to dampen Sovereign People's efforts to win full independence even if it can form a government.

The island was part of the Netherlands Antilles until October 2010, when it became a more autonomous "constituent country" of the Netherlands. The island's governor is the representative of the Dutch monarch, the people remain Dutch nationals and the Netherlands government oversees defense and foreign affairs.

Backers of Sovereign People believe that Curacao could stand alone now that its economy is largely dependent on offshore finance and tourism, much of it from nearby Venezuela.

But most on the island have been wary, and all the other parties favor keeping strong ties to the Netherlands.

"It's crazy; people here are not thinking about their future," said Hendrick Bielen, a 53-year-old bar owner who moved from the Netherlands to Curacao seven years ago, he said. "Why should I stay here now? If the Dutch leave, Curacao won't have anything. It will be a third world country."

The vote was a blow for Schotte, the island's first prime minister, whose coalition lost its majority in parliament in August when other parties withdrew, forcing Friday's elections. Schotte locked himself inside his former government office for one weekend in September to protest the appointment of an interim administration.

Also sliding was the relatively conservative Party of the Real Alternative led by former Netherlands Antilles Prime Minister Emily de Jongh-Elhage. It had held eight seats in the last parliament but will hold only four now. The two top finishers, which were allied in the previous governing alliance, have ruled out a coalition with Real Alternative due to differing ideologies.

The Supreme Election Council's vice president, Lizanne Dindial, said it was the largest voter turnout the island has had in recent history, with more than 87,000 of 104,000 eligible voters participating.