THE HAGUE: Dutch voters go to the polls next month in the first of a series of elections that will be a litmus test of European politics after Brexit and Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US.
All eyes are on the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) and its outspoken leader, MP Geert Wilders.
If the opinion polls prove right, Wilders is on track to deliver the country’s establishment Liberal party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Labour coalition partner a thumping on March 15.
What may prove Wilders’s best polls showing ever could in turn boost the chances of his ideological allies in both France and Germany, where elections are due later in the year.
Wilders, who has vowed to take his country out of the EU, has been riding high in the polls for months, propelled both by Trump’s victory and the tensions triggered by Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
But some say the polls are unreliable, while others maintain PVV supporters among the 12.6 million eligible to vote are keeping their cards close to their chests.
Despite his blond, bouffant hair and political similarities, Wilders dismisses the easy moniker of being “the Dutch Donald Trump”.
But he has made no secret of his admiration for the new US president (he was a guest at the Republican convention) and like him has delighted in taking his message directly to voters via Twitter.
He even got into hot water last week for “fake news” by tweeting a photo-shopped picture of a political foe supposedly surrounded by Islamist radicals.
In recent weeks however, Rutte’s Liberal VVD has narrowed the gap, and the latest survey on Sunday predicted he would win about 24 seats to 30 for Wilders.
“After Trump’s election, the PVV got a boost. But the survey today shows that 25 percent of PVV voters are reacting negatively to the measures taken by President Trump,” respected pollster Maurice de Hond said.
Even though Wilders has been a politician for at least two decades, “I think people increasingly want to vote for him because they don’t see enough change,” said Leiden University political expert Geerten Waling.
Former harbour master Sijmen Kaper, 70, in the PVV eastern stronghold of Volendam, agreed.
“The politicians aren’t listening to the people. These people aren’t racists, they are people who want things done differently,” he said.
With 28 parties competing, every vote counts with most observers predicting an unwieldy four- or five-party coalition.
Among those who may be heavily wooed are Jesse Klaver, the 30-year-old charismatic leader of GroenLinks.
In what would be a seismic upheaval in Dutch politics, GroenLinks is predicted to trample over more established parties, such as traditional Christian parties, and may even come in third.
Klaver — dubbed the Dutch Justin Trudeau — has urged closer cooperation between leftwing parties, to block any coalition headed by Rutte.
His lofty aim, he told AFP last year, is to halt what he calls “the right-wing wind that’s blowing through all of Europe.” AFP