On 15 March, Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), is set to become the biggest party in the Netherlands, says Simon Kuper in the Financial Times. The party is running on an “explicitly Islamophobic ticket” and has promised to close all mosques in the Netherlands and ban sales of the Koran. Other policies include a ban on all asylum seekers and a referendum on a Dutch exit from the European Union. Wilders’ views, which include regularly describing Moroccan immigrants as “scum”, explain why the 53-year-old has been under 24/7 state protection for the past 13 years.
In spite of his isolation and infrequent public appearances, Wilders is a “politician ahead of his time”, says Alissa Rubin in The New York Times. He has cleverly managed to build a successful movement by exploiting the internet and social media to communicate with voters “without the filter of journalists”. This has proved a highly effective way of reaching “disillusioned citizens”.
Whether his party wins the most votes or forms a government doesn’t matter. Wilders has “already succeeded in one of his main ambitions”, which is to push to the right the politics of a socially liberal country with a “centuries-long tradition of promoting religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants”. Wilders argues that it is precisely this tolerance that is now being “threatened by Islam’s ‘totalitarian ideology’”.
The reason his anti-Islam, Eurosceptic rhetoric is “resonating” with Dutch voters now is due to the “migrant crisis, the terror threat… and ongoing eurozone woes”, says Alice Foster in the Daily Express. But although an electoral victory by Wilders would be another “blow” for Europe’s liberal order, at least he won’t become prime minister.
As Rem Korteweg, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, points out, although his party is on track to win 29 of the 76 needed to form a coalition government, none of the other Dutch parties will join forces with the PVV. “The result of that is going to be a political mess,” says Korteweg. “Wilders will claim that he has the will of the people”, and since the ruling coalition is likely to include no fewer than five parties, the resulting instability could cause it to rapidly fall apart, “sparking fresh elections”.