Yesterday's local elections in the Netherlands resulted in a victory for the Freedom Party (PVV) of opposition leader Geert Wilders. On June 9th the Dutch will again be called to the voting booths for the general elections. Yesterday's outcome reinforces the PVV's momentum, which may result in a political landslide next June, with repercussions all over Europe.
Geert Wilders is currently the most interesting political phenomenon in Europe. He is an anti-establishment politician who has a good chance of becoming a leading member of his country's next government. Wilders defends Dutch national sovereignty and opposes the European Union's centralizing policies. He also defends Dutch national identity and opposes the Islamization of the Netherlands. Wilders's themes appeal to people in other European countries as well, where they are equally concerned about the loss of national sovereignty and identity, and feel that Europe's traditional parties no longer speak for them.
From the center-right to the center-left, Europe's establishment parties share the consensus that Islamization and EU centralization are inevitable and must be facilitated if the parties want to survive and hold on to power.
On international issues Wilders adopts positions which also go against those of Europe's ruling political and intellectual establishment. He is an opponent of Turkey's entry into the EU, an outspoken defender of Israel and an advocate of stronger American-European relations. This makes him unpopular with the media, but has not harmed him with the electorate.
During the past three years, Wilders has been screening and training potential candidates for the parliamentary elections. To avoid attracting political opportunists and quarrelsome wranglers, he has been bringing potential candidates together in “class rooms” every Saturday. He has also had them coached by the party's current parliamentarians. When the Dutch government fell two weeks ago, Wilders announced that he was ready for the elections and able to field a list of decent and capable candidates.
Wilders has carefully avoided international contacts with foreign anti-establishment and anti-immigrant parties who have been tarnished by anti-Semitic elements in the past. Wilders regards support for Israel as the litmus test to decide with whom he is willing to cooperate. His only official contacts so far have been with the Danish People's Party (DF) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Wilders has traveled to Denmark and Britain to speak at the invitation of the DF and UKIP. Last year, the British Labour government banned Wilders from entering Britain when he traveled there to speak in the House of Lords at the invitation of UKIP leader Lord Malcolm Pearson. The ban has meanwhile been overruled in court. Tomorrow, Friday, Wilders will be in London to hold the speech which he was prevented from holding in February 2009. On this occasion he will also show the short documentary film, Fitna [The Ordeal], which he made in 2008 to warn the world about Islam, which in his opinion is a dangerous ideology rather than a religion.
Wilders has succeeded in making Islamization one of the major themes of the coming elections. Ironically, the Dutch authorities have helped him by taking him to court over Fitna. They have accused him of racism and incitement to hatred and discrimination against non-Western ethnic minorities. Although Wilders is an elected member of Parliament, he can be taken to court because the Netherlands, unlike some of its neighboring countries, does not grant politicians immunity from prosecution.
The Public Prosecutor argues that by stating his opinions on Islam, Wilders has “insulted” Muslims. Wilders, however, emphasizes that he has never said anything negative about Muslims; he has always carefully restricted his criticism to the ideology of Islam and has done nothing but state what he sees as the truth.
Wilders asked the court for permission to summon 18 expert witnesses in his defense. These not only included academics and former Muslims, but also Islamist apologists of terrorism.
In early February the court brushed aside the request, allowing Wilders to summon only two Dutch academics plus the Syrian-born, American author and former Muslim, Wafa Sultan.
Moreover, to prevent the trial from turning into a trial about the nature of Islam - with Islam in the dock rather than Wilders - the court ruled that the three experts will only be heard behind closed doors. Finally, the court decided to postpone the case for a few months.
If the case is reopened before June 9th, it will seriously hamper Wilders' electoral campaign: he will obliged to attend the court's sessions. On the other hand, it could gain him the sympathy of additional voters and bring his ideas even more into the foreground as the major theme of the elections.
If the PVV manages to become the largest party in the Netherlands, Dutch Queen Beatrix is expected to ask Wilders to try to form a coalition government, although the Queen is not legally obligated to do so. It is the tradition, however, that the leader of the largest party becomes the nation's next Prime Minister.
In Almere last week, Wilders announced that one of the first things a PVV led coalition will do is introduce a ban on headscarves for civil servants, and for all institutions, foundations or associations that receive municipal subsidies. He added: “For all clarity, this ban does not include crosses or yarmulkes, because those are symbols of religions that belong to our culture and are not - as is the case with headscarves - a sign of an oppressive totalitarian ideology.”
The American journalist Diana West, author of The Death of the Grown-Up, says that Wilders is “so important as a politician leading the reversal of the Islamization of the West” because of the clarity of the distinction which he makes between Islam and other religions. “He defies the multicultural lock on truth as he rejects the cultural relativist's denial of identity.”
If Wilders becomes the next Dutch Prime Minister, he will be able to influence decision making at the level of the European Union and become a major political figure on the international scene. Some observers expect that the mainstream Dutch center-right parties - the Christian-Democrats and the Liberals - will not be willing to form a coalition with him because they want to keep him away from the international political scene. If that is the case, however, the most likely outcome of the June elections will be a center-right minority government that depends on the support of the PVV.
The Netherlands have no tradition of minority governments. Denmark, however, has. In Denmark, the center-right governs with the support of the Danish People's Party. It is a formula which has allowed the DF to set the government's agenda without being part of the government.
Wilders is familiar with the Danish model. In the past three years he has met the DF leadership in the Danish Parliament on two occasions. Not being a member of a government coalition, while still being able to set its agenda, might be an attractive alternative to the Dutch political tactician. It would also give him the opportunity to continue visiting Western countries, including America, to warn the West about the danger of Islam and to build an international political movement opposing multiculturalist relativism.
The Hague and Almere were the only two municipalities where the PVV fielded candidates for yesterday's local elections. The PVV would also have done well in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other cities, but decided not to run there.
Wilders is leading a young party which still lacks a solid local structure. Rather than concentrating on quantity and fielding candidates wherever he could, even if he was not sure about the candidates' background and talents, Wilders concentrated on quality. He could not afford to take the risk that in the three months remaining until June 9th, local PVV newcomers might discredit the PVV's good reputation.
Wilders is a thoughtful, cautious political strategist. He has learned from the experience of the LPF, the party of the late Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. In many respects Fortuyn stood for the same ideas as Wilders. After Fortuyn's assassination, the LPF fell apart in quarrelling factions. In 2007 the party lost its 8 seats in Parliament, while the PVV gained 9 seats in the first parliamentary elections in which it participated.
A poll taken yesterday by Dutch state television, NOS, predicts that Wilders will gain 24 of the 150 parliamentary seats next June. This would make the PVV the third biggest party in the country, after the Christian-Democrats (CDA) of the current Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, and Labour. There are, however, other polls, such as the De Hond poll, which many consider the Netherlands' most respected one, which predicted that the PVV will become the biggest party with 27 seats.
CDA currently has 41 seats; the NOS poll predicts that it will drop to a mere 29; De Hond predicts an even lower 26 seats. Labour currently has 33 seats and is predicted by NOS to drop to 27, and by De Hond, to 24 seats. The center-right Liberal Party VVD is predicted in both polls to keep its current 21 seats. The Christian Union (CU) has seven seats in both polls, one more than the current six. Hence, both NOS and De Hond predict that the current center-left coalition of CDA, Labour and CU will lose its parliamentary majority. A center-right coalition of CDA, Wilders's PVV, VVD and CU would in both polls have a comfortable majority of 81 seats.
Wilders is a politician who, in a Buckleyan tradition, “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”
In yesterday's local elections - the first ever in which Wilders's party, established as recently as 2007, participated - the PVV became the biggest party in Almere and the second party in The Hague, two of the country's major cities. The PVV won 21.6% of the votes in Almere and 16.9% in The Hague. The parties of the left had mobilized Muslim immigrants to come out and vote against Wilders. Many of them did so.