Quo vadis, Dutch voters?


Quo vadis, Dutch voters?

In a country where political moderation is the norm, this week's election in the Netherlands was the most exciting in years. To boot, a far-right party snatched the largest share of parliamentary seats, writes ANESCA SMITH.


THE far-right party of Geert Wilders — known for his anti-Islamic statements and strong stance against immigrants, including those from Africa — surprised friend and foe on Wednesday by convincingly winning the Dutch election.

In a country where political moderation prevails, it was the most exciting election in years.

Other far-right personalities in Europe, including Hungary's Viktor Orbán and France's Marine Le Pen, were among the first to congratulate Wilders.

What this will mean on the international political stage — such as whether there will be a hardening of the Netherlands' stance on the Israel-Hamas war and the country's climate policy — remains to be seen.

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‘A threat to Muslims’

Wilders clapped his hands over his eyes, obviously shocked, when it became clear late on Wednesday that his Party for Freedom (PVV) had become the largest party by winning 37 of the 150 seats in the Dutch House of Representatives.

Many other parties reacted with disgust. Among them is DENK,  founded by two politicians of Turkish origin who campaign for minority rights. The leader, Stephan van Baarle, said Wilders' victory “poses a threat to a million Muslims in the Netherlands". DENK won three seats.

The party with the most votes usually gets the premiership. But it is an open question whether this will happen in the case of Wilders, since he will have to form a coalition government with other parties, the largest of which completely ruled out cooperation with him before the election. At the same time, it will be difficult to leave Wilders out of the government.

The left-wing cooperation party Groenlinks-PvDA won the second highest number of seats (25), followed with 24 seats by the liberal-conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which was in power for 13 years under Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The VVD's campaign was led by Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, a Kurdish-Turkish woman married to a Jew who fled to the Netherlands at the age of eight. If her party had won again this time, she would have become the Netherlands' first female prime minister, but not much was made of this in the run-up to the election.

Pieter Omtzigt's New Social Contract Party (NSC), which was one of the catalysts for the early election — barely two years after the previous one — finished fourth with 20 seats. Until recently, Omtzigt was a favourite for the premiership after he denounced the government's inability to protect thousands of poor families from overzealous tax inspectors.

Wilders, a veteran politician who has been constantly threatened for almost 20 years and lives with tight security, was found guilty in 2016 of discrimination for statements such as, “Less, less Moroccans".

Wilders’ victory explained

While his victory seemed improbable a mere three weeks ago, Wilders' popularity suddenly started to increase in the last week or two.

Concerns about migration and left-wing parties' “open borders" stance were the biggest theme in the election and probably made the difference for Wilders. Even the climate crisis, on which left-wing parties in particular based their campaign, was no match for the migration issue.

Similar to what Donald Trump did in the US, Wilders has run a “Netherlands First" campaign for years and has indicated that he is in favour of the country leaving the European Union like Britain — a so-called “Nexit". But this is highly unlikely, as he needs a majority vote in parliament for that.

What happened in the last week or two that caused a swing among voters?

Well, Wilders unexpectedly tempered his anti-Islamic statements considerably about a week ago. During the parties' last debate on Tuesday evening, he emphasised several times that he wanted to be a “prime minister for all Dutch people", regardless of their religious beliefs. According to him, there are bigger problems than the asylum crisis, such as the rising cost of living — something many political parties emphasised in their campaigns.

In addition, Wilders' many years of experience as a politician and his ability not only to read the zeitgeist but to articulate it, counted in his favour. Where his political opponents get bogged down in long, confusing explanations about policy, Wilders communicates his message in short, clear summaries.

Despite his anti-immigration statements, Wilders can surprisingly also count on a lot of sympathy from voters with a non-Western background, including Muslims — especially among people who don't have much and don't want any more migrants in a country where one of the biggest crises is an enormous housing shortage.

Ahmed Marcouch, mayor of the eastern city of Arnhem, is not surprised by the positivity towards Wilders in poor parts of his city, even though  he “demonises Islam".

In terms of content, he does not contribute much to the agenda, but in this neighbourhood people don't only live, they have to survive," Marcouch told De Volkskrant.

These are people who depend on the government. Whether Western or non-Western, they all have the same problems and feel disappointed, angry, suspicious and distrustful of the government. Wilders plays perfectly into this sentiment."

A resident of Arnhem, 45-year-old Farid Daraji, is also tired of migration even though his own father came to the Netherlands from Morocco as a guest worker. “Migration must stop. Make sure you help your own people first. The hardworking Dutchman feels completely excluded. Look at the people standing in long lines in front of the food bank."


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