Sunday, April 14, 2024

Dutch vote in test of anti-immigrant sentiment in nervous EU

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AMSTERDAM – The Dutch voted on Wednesday in an election pitting mainstream parties against the hard-right anti-Islam Geert Wilders whose popularity is seen as a threat to politics-as-usual across Europe and an existential threat to the EU itself.

A diplomatic row with Turkey, which accused the Dutch of acting like Nazis for forbidding its politicians from holding rallies on Dutch soil, added last-minute drama, and sunny skies on the day encouraged a high turnout, especially in the cities, something that might count against Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV).

Late opinion polls gave Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right VVD a three percentage point lead over Wilders, boosted by the Turkey row, which allowed him to take a tough line on a majority Muslim country that many Dutch people said had no right to campaign on its streets.

“Rutte did well this weekend with the Turkey row,” said Dave Cho, a 42-year-old supply manager and long-time VVD supporter, as he headed to vote in Amsterdam.

Dutch proportional representation means up to 15 parties could win a parliamentary seat and none are expected to reach even 20 percent of the vote. That means Wilders, who wants to “de-Islamicise” the Netherlands and pull out of the European Union, has little chance of governing, as other mainstream parties have said they won’t work with him.

But if he comes first, it would be another big shock to the EU after Britain voted to leave the bloc last year, and send a bad omen to mainstream parties fending off right-wing nationalists at elections in France and Germany later this year.

Rutte has called the Dutch vote a European quarter-final, before a French semi-final and German final and warned that a Wilders victory would be “the wrong sort of populism winning the day.”

The far-right Marine Le Pen is set to make the second-round run-off in France’s presidential election in May, and in September’s federal election in Germany, the right-wing, Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany is likely to enter the national parliament for the first time.

With as many as four in 10 of the Netherlands’ 13 million eligible voters undecided a day before voting, and just 5 percentage points separating the top four parties, turnout could be crucial.

At 5:45 p.m. (1645 GMT), turnout was 55 percent, seven points higher than in 2012, according to an Ipsos exit poll. In Amsterdam, a quarter of people had voted by 1200 GMT, compared with 14 percent in 2012.

An exit poll is expected when polls close at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT), with first partial results due around an hour later.

“(Turnout) is much higher in the big cities, which should help (left-wing, pro-European parties) GreenLeft and D66 and hurt the PVV,” said Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist at the University of Georgia.

“I have a lot of concerns about what’s going on in the world: Trump, Wilders – it’s really frightening,” said art teacher Sara Schouten, who was voting GreenLeft in Amsterdam.

“It’s important to speak up for the exact opposite.”

GENIE

After voting at a school in The Hague, Wilders was defiant.

“Whatever the outcome of the election today the genie will not go back into the bottle and this patriotic revolution, whether today or tomorrow, will take place,” he said.

In the final debate on Tuesday night, he rounded on Lodewijk Asscher, whose Labour party could lose two-thirds of its seats in its worst ever defeat, punished by voters for backing Rutte’s austerity program in the outgoing two-party coalition.

Asscher defended the rights of Muslims to not be treated as second-class citizens. “The Netherlands belongs to all of us, and everyone who does his best,” he said.

“The Netherlands is not for everyone. The Netherlands is for the Dutch,” Wilders retorted.

Rutte, who hopes economic recovery will help him carry the election, has insisted he will neither accept Wilders as a coalition partner nor rely on his support for a minority government, as he did in 2010-2012.

“Not, never, not,” Rutte told Wilders in a debate.

It could take months to build a coalition after the final tally is known. With no party polling above 17 percent, at least four will need to join forces for a parliamentary majority – the first such alliance since a series of short-lived governments in the 1970s.

On Wednesday morning, two voter information websites were pushed offline by a “denial of service” cyber-attack.

It was not clear whether that was related to the row with Turkey, which also led to the temporary defacement of numerous small websites in the Netherlands.

Separately on Wednesday, several Twitter accounts including that of the European Parliament, Reuters Japan, Die Welt, Forbes, Amnesty International and Duke University were hijacked temporarily, apparently by Turkish activists. (Reuters)

 

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