Dutch Shift To Right Unsettles Mainstream Parties

Dutch shift to right unsettles mainstream parties

By Michael Steen in Amsterdam
FT Times
Published: June 5 2009 18:27
Last updated: June 5 2009 18:27

The decision by every seventh Dutch voter to support the party of Geert Wilders, the anti-immigration politician, in the European parliament elections is likely to drag domestic politics to the right and unsettle mainstream parties in other European Union states.

Unofficial results from Thursdays poll show Mr Wilders Party for Freedom, or PVV, will become the second-biggest Dutch party in the parliament with four of the countrys 25 seats.

For a party formed by Mr Wilders in 2006 and fielding its first European parliament candidates, the result was a political earthquake.

The profusion of smaller parties on ballot papers meant it was harder for the losing mainstream politicians to dismiss as a protest vote a result that pushes the Labour party into a humiliating third place.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister, tried on Friday to put a gloss on the defeat. His Christian Democrats, who govern in coalition with Labour, lost two of their seven seats.

The nice thing about democracy is that there are no certainties, he said. Success today doesnt mean youll have success tomorrow.

It was also hard to explain the vote away as simple Euroscepticism. While Mr Wilders PVV campaigned on a strongly Eurosceptic message, there were plenty of other parties offering broadly similar criticisms. D66, the party that chose to focus on a purely positive European message, secured three seats, up from one previously.

Instead, it seems likely that Mr Wilders anti-immigration stance, expressed in his European campaign with calls not to let Turkey join the bloc in a million years, resonated with an apparently growing segment of the population.

The PVVs anti-Islam programme seems to be very successful because people are afraid of Islam or fed up with Moroccans, said Jan Jaap de Ruiter, an Arabist at Tilburg University who writes on multiculturalism and identifies a political failure to tackle ethnic tensions in big cities as key.

If you live under a family with 10 Moroccan children who always make a noise and dont respect you, you of course have quite a different view on multicultural society, he said.

In government, Mr Wilders, a 45-year-old platinum blond who lives under permanent police protection due to death threats, has said he would stop immigration, ask Muslims to leave and ban the Koran. But he is also stridently pro-Israeli and supportive of gay rights.

The PVV can trace its political roots to the party set up by Pim Fortuyn, the gay anti-Islamic politician who was shot dead in 2002.

Unlike far-right parties such as the British National party or Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Mr Wilders PVV is if anything growing in respectability, as the flood of customary congratulations for his victory on Thursday demonstrated.

You see the other parties have started to copy our robust language, Dion Graus, a PVV member of parliament, said on election night. Take louts or Moroccan street thugs. When we started saying those things they threatened to turn off our microphones in parliament. Now youll hear Prime Minister Balkenende saying it.



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