Youssef Ikhlaf, Netherlands
Anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) secured a substantial victory in the recent Dutch elections, positioning Wilders to lead talks for the next governing coalition, potentially making him the first far-right prime minister in the Netherlands.
The unexpected outcome has sparked varied reactions and raised concerns about the future political landscape. However, the victory presents a challenge as mainstream parties are hesitant to form alliances with him. Talks to establish a new Dutch government started. Ronald Plasterk, a former Labour Party minister, has been appointed as the “scout” tasked with investigating coalition options. This decision comes after a tumultuous week in which the outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD (conservative-liberal party) ruled out participating in a government led by Wilders, thereby limiting the choices for the victorious party in the election. However, they are willing to support a centre-right government from the sidelines.
Wilders’ election ‘success’
With all votes counted, Wilders’ party for Freedom exceeded expectations, winning 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament. This victory more than doubled the 17 seats the party won in the last election, showcasing a significant shift in Dutch politics. (“Definitieve uitslag Kiesraad: PVV wint verkiezingen, één kandidaat met voorkeurstemmen gekozen (GL-PvdA)”, www.parlement.com)
Concerns and reactions of Islamic and Moroccan organizations
Muslim and Moroccan organizations, particularly SPIOR (Foundation Platform Islamic Organizations Rijnmond) and CMO (Contact Organization Muslims and Government) have voiced fear and profound concerns about the notable successes achieved by the PVV. They emphasize the increasing prevalence of Islamophobia and the potential consequences for the Muslim community in the Netherlands. Nourdin El Ouali, the director of SPIOR, said: “It is clearer than ever what the country stands for. Wilders has not become milder; the Netherlands has hardened. A piece of the mask of civilization in the Netherlands has fallen away.” (“Islamitische Nederlanders bezorgd na monsterzege PVV: ‘Angst is groot’”, www.rtlnieuws.nl)
Habib el Kaddouri of the Collaboration of Moroccan Dutch (SMN) said: “The dismay and fear are very significant.” Muhsin Köktas of the Contact Organization Muslims and Government (CMO) wonders if Muslims have a future in the Netherlands. He said: “Everyone talks about livelihood security, but I don’t know if we have it anymore.” (Ibid.)
Warning of the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
Wilders is famous for saying, “I don’t hate Muslims. I hate Islam.” Ironically, to justify this hatred, he invariably attributes the evil actions of some misguided Muslims to the pristine teachings of Islam.
During a visit to Holland in 2011, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, delivered a stern warning to Geert Wilders. Addressing Wilders directly, Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa said: “Listen carefully […] No worldly power, no matter how powerful and no matter how much hatred they bear towards Islam, will ever succeed in erasing our religion.” (“World Muslim leader sends warning to dutch politician Geert Wilders”, www.alislam.org)
Huzooraa explained further: “Always remember, that we can achieve nothing without prayer. We have no worldly power, nor will we ever use any worldly force. But the prayers of people whose hearts have been grieved are enough to shake the Heavens.” (Ibid.)
Huzooraa also spoke of the many decent people who continued to live in Holland and who rejected wholeheartedly the extremist views perpetuated by Wilders. He said that all such people who care for the feelings of one another and who believe in religious freedom should come together and launch a campaign for peace in the world. This is something that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat has long advocated and has been involved with throughout the world.
The question now is, what was the reason for his election success?
Wilders’ recent response and attempt to address concerns
Despite his harsh rhetoric, Wilders has already begun reaching out to other right and centre parties, emphasising that his policies will remain within the bounds of the law and constitution. During the final weeks of the campaign, he softened his stance further, vowing to be a prime minister for all Dutch people, including Muslims. This shift in tone earned him the nickname Geert “Milders.”
Islam, so far a big issue for the party, is no longer a priority as far as Wilders is concerned. In a Dutch television program ‘Nieuwsuur’, he said Islam is not a priority now. “Other issues are more important.” He showed himself as a politician willing to “make compromises”. (“Wilders willing to step back anti-Islam rhetoric to be part of next government”, nltimes.nl)
Pieter Omtzigt, leader of the new party NSC’s (New Social Contract) said that he doesn’t want to form a coalition in a new cabinet with the PVV at this moment. Omtzigt still sees objections to working with the PVV. He said Wilders announced, among other things, that he would put his views on Islam aside for the time being. But Omtzigt wants to know what he exactly means by that.
Former VVD prime minister does not rule out that the Netherlands will have to go to the polls again. He reckons Geert Wilders’ PVV might not be able to form a coalition.
Factors influencing the election outcome
Several other factors played a role in shaping the election results. We will examine them one by one. The primary influencing factor is the vacuum created by the exit of the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, from the VVD in Dutch politics.
1. Migration – Dutch concerns about shelter and housing
The increasing immigration and the associated shortage of proper shelter and housing in the Netherlands were of great concern to the Dutch people. Wilders’ firm position on managing and restricting migration resonated with his voter base and like-minded people. He underscored the priority of Dutch citizens and advocated for putting a stop to additional immigration. (“Netherlands: Rising immigration and new government initiatives”, ec.europa.eu)
2. Unusual Muslim voter base
Wilders himself stated that many Muslims voted for him, which was quite unusual to hear. Some Turkish citizens expressed concerns about a new VVD leader of Kurdish-Turkish descent who opposed the headscarf and immigration, even though she, herself, immigrated in her childhood. This has led some to prefer Wilders. It also appears that Muslims who voted for him may have done so to protest against the aggressive climate policies and LGBTI+ policies of the left parties. (“Volgens Lalë Gul stemden veel allochtonen op Wilders: ‘Door links-progressieve partijen in de steek gelaten’”, nieuwrechts.nl)
3. The coercive nature of Europe’s influence
The coercive nature of Europe’s influence in the Netherlands has also contributed to votes for Wilders. For instance, the concerted effort by a significant majority in the European Parliament to eliminate national veto rights in 65 policy areas. This move goes beyond foreign policy, encompassing areas such as taxes and the EU budget. Consequently, it suggests a shift where decisions are increasingly being made in Europe rather than in The Hague. (“Geert Wilders: the anti-Islam leader vowing to ‘put the Dutch first’”, www.ft.com)
4. Strategic voting prompted by concerns about coalition partners and policies
Issues with other parties, including doubts about the new party NSC’s (New Social Contract) role and dissatisfaction with VVD’s policies, influenced strategic voting in favour of the PVV. The NSC bears similarities to traditional parties that have left people with unfavourable experiences. For example, the NSC supports Ukraine which the Dutch people don’t like. Additionally, strategic voting played a significant role, with voters strategically casting their votes based on concerns about coalition partners and policies.
5. Cultural conservatism and economic policies
Wilders’ success is also attributed to a significant portion of the Dutch population being culturally conservative while also leaning economically left. The Party for Freedom’s policies on immigration and advocating for an involved government in areas like healthcare resonated strongly with this voter base. (“Geert Wilders’ win shows the far right is being normalised. Mainstream parties must act”, www.theguardian.com)
6. Focus on cultural identity
Examining the 46-page election programme of the Party for Freedom reveals a strong emphasis on cultural identity. The repeated use of the words “Netherlands” and “Dutch” underscores the party’s commitment to preserving national identity, a sentiment that resonated well with voters. (“Waar staat de PVV eigenlijk voor? ‘Nederlander weer op één’”, www.ad.nl)
7. Political theatrics in televised debate
During a televised debate on SBS6, a woman on welfare highlighted her struggle with the €375 deductible. Frans Timmermans responded with a promise to fight for improvement, but Geert Wilders seized the opportunity to criticize Timmermans for receiving €16,000 per month in severance pay, while not offering a clear solution to the lady. While not offering a clear solution, Wilders’ cunning move gained applause, showcasing his attempt to score points in the final stages of the campaign. This unfortunately indicates that people were ultimately more influenced by superficial appearances than by substantive viewpoints. (“Geert Wilders steelt show tijdens SBS-debat en grapt over gewicht Timmermans”, www.youtube.com)
In conclusion, Geert Wilders’ electoral triumph reflects a complex interplay of factors, including concerns over migration, strategic voting, and societal anxieties. The analysis has explored Wilders’ response to concerns, factors influencing the election outcome, and the potential consequences of his political ascension. “RTL Nieuwspanel: immigratie belangrijkste reden voor stem op Wilders” www.rtlnieuws.nl.
As coalition talks unfold, this article has delved into the uncertainties surrounding the far-right’s increased influence in Dutch society. The coming weeks will provide clarity on the direction the Netherlands may take under the potential leadership of Geert Wilders. But one thing, which Huzooraa said back in 2011, is certain. He said, “Listen carefully […] No worldly power, no matter how powerful, and no matter how much hatred they bear towards Islam, will ever succeed in erasing our religion.” (“World Muslim leader sends warning to Dutch politician Geert Wilders”, www.alislam.org)