Netherlands election another populist test
A far-right anti-Islamist candidate could show whether world’s Brexit-Trump fever has passed.
Amid unprecedented international attention, the Dutch go to the polls today in a parliamentary election that is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism in a year of crucial votes in Europe.
With the anti-Islam, farright lawmaker Geert Wilders running just behind twoterm right-wing Prime Minister Mark Rutte in polls, the Dutch vote could give an indication of whether the tide of populism that swept Britain toward the European Union exit door and Donald Trump into the White house has peaked.
The elections in the Netherlands comes ahead of polls over the next half-year in France and Germany, where right-wing nationalists will also be key players.
Rutte has driven through unpopular austerity measures over the last four years, but as the election approaches the Dutch eco- nomic recovery has gathered pace and unemployment has fallen fast. He is casting the election as a two-horse race between his VVD party and the Party for Freedom led by Wilders. The choice, Rutte says, is simple: chaos or continuity.
The prime minister says Wilders’ one-page manifesto — pledging to take the Neth- erlands out of the European Union, shut its borders to all immigrants from Muslim countries, shutter mosques and ban the Quran — would be disastrous. Wilders fired back in a debate Monday that it would allow the Dutch “to become the boss in our own country again.”
Wilders also is tapping into discontent among voters who say they are not benefit- ing from economic recovery in this nation of 17 million.
Ruud van Dong en, a 49-year-old chauffeur, said he would vote for Wilders’ PVV as a protest against changes in work laws that mean fewer people have jobs for life, which used to be a staple in the Netherlands.
“Do you know what’s the deal with jobs? They last for two years and then people are on the street,” he said.
Even if Wilders wins the popular vote, the Dutch system of proportional representation for the 150-seat lower house of Parliament will likely keep him out of government because all mainstream parties, with Rutte leading the way, have rejected working with Wilders in a coalition.
“Wilders will play no role in the formation of a government,” said Amsterdam Free University political analyst Andre Krouwel. “But Wilders plays a major role in the tone and content of the campaign and Wilders — even if he doesn’t win a single seat — has already won because the two biggest rightwing parties have taken over his policies.”
While Rutte’s VVD party holds a narrow lead over Wilders in most polls, other parties are still in the running and well-placed to play a role in the next coalition.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks to the press Tuesday as he campaigns in The Hague ahead of today’s parliamentary election.
Anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders speaks Tuesday during a Parliament debate in The Hague, Netherlands.