Nether­lands elec­tion another pop­ulist test

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Corder

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.

CARL COURT / GETTY IM­AGES

Dutch Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte speaks to the press Tues­day as he cam­paigns in The Hague ahead of to­day’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tion.

ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN / ANP / VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Anti-Is­lam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders speaks Tues­day dur­ing a Parliament de­bate in The Hague, Nether­lands.

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