Geert Wilders's anti-immigration PVV is polling well
The key question is whether Wilders will do well enough in tomorrow’s general election to get into government. According to the latest polling the answer is a definite ja. On these numbers, it’s going to be very difficult to form a stable coalition without his participation or support.
Indeed, from this position it’s possible that the Freedom Party could finish a clear first which, in theory, would put Wilders in pole position to become prime minister.
How did it come to this? Whatever happened to the free-wheeling, chilled-out Netherlands of British imagination? To be fair, angry Dutch voters have tried to find alternatives to Wilders. Like an adventurous customer at an Amsterdam coffee shop, they’ve sampled all the varieties of Dutch populism.
The experimentation began with Thierry Baudet and his Forum for Democracy. When that got weird, the voters turned to JA21 — a Forum splinter group. After that wore off, the next hit was the BBB — a farmers’ protest group that accidentally turned into a major political party. Then, most recently, it was the turn of Pieter Omtzigt and his New Social Contract party.
Omtzigt is a fascinating character. To translate him into British terms, imagine a Conservative MP exposing a scandal every bit as shocking as our Post Office scandal only on a much bigger scale. The MP becomes a national hero — but then has a spectacular falling out with the Tories. He quits, only to emerge months later to start an instantly successful populist party of his own.
A few weeks ago, the amazing Omtzigt was all set to win the election — except that his populism wasn’t quite populist enough for some voters. And so, on the principle of better the devil you know, this footloose section of the electorate has returned to Wilders.
But could Wilders really become prime minister? He would need to put together a majority coalition — and with a projected 26 seats in the 150 seat House of Representatives, the Freedom Party is nowhere near that hurdle. Even with the other populist parties (among whom little love is lost) Wilders would still be well short.
The problem for the establishment parties is that Dutch politics is now so divided that they, too, will struggle to form viable coalitions. For instance, the parties of the current centrist coalition are set for a pummelling by the voters — and thus won’t have the numbers to carry on. Meanwhile, EU bigwig Frans Timmermans has returned from Brussels to lead a centre-Left alliance, but with a projected 23 seats, it’s hard to see them commanding a majority.
Therefore, though the other parties can probably stop Wilders from becoming prime minister, keeping him from a share of power will be difficult. A grand coalition of the Liberals, the Left and Omtzigt’s party might freeze him out, yet it would likely fall apart over the issue of immigration (just like the current coalition did).
So forget your preconceptions: the Dutch are set for a sharp turn to the Right.