In what is being seen as a dry run for the national elections of 9 June, in the 3 March local elections Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) won control of its first municipality and came second in The Hague.
The town of Almere at the southern end of the Ijesselmeer is one of the newest towns in Holland, founded in 1975 on land reclaimed from the Zuider Zeeonly seven years previously. The town’s youthfulness and its mostly homogenous population may seem to be at odds with Wilders’ anti-Islamic and conservative message, but most of its residents commute to work in Amsterdam. The significance of coming second in The Hague is that it is the seat of the Dutch government and royal family, and the home to many institutions, such as the International Court of Justice. This was the party’s first outing in local elections, and it only contested these constituencies because of a lack of resources. Based on these results, the party could win 27 out of the 150 seats at national level (it presently has nine), which could potentially bring it into government as part of a coalition, perhaps even the largest single party. The Christian Democrats (VVD) the largest conservative party, has not ruled out working with the PVV, but several smaller parties, such as the centre-right D66 and the Green left Party, both of which also did well yesterday, have long maintained that they would never work with the PVV.
Wilders, who is 46, is a former VVD speechwriter and parliamentarian who fell out with the party in 2004 because of its support for Turkish membership of the EU. He sat as an independent MP until forming the PVV in 2006, earning a reputation as an anti-Islamic showman and controversialist, nicknamed “Mozart” because of his vaguely 18th century bouffant blondness. He has called for the Koran and the burqa to be banned, for an end to immigration from Muslim countries and the construiction of mosques in the Netherlands, and made the film Fitna – for which he is presently facing a “hate speech” trial, and was temporarily barred from Britain (although he is due in London tomorrow to have another attempt at showing Fitna in the House of Lords). There have been two hearings in his trial so far, but it is now on hold until the summer – by which time he could theoretically be a government minister. He lives at a secret address and is under constant security protection – a wise precaution in a country which has already witnessed the Islam-related murders of the similarly outspoken Theo Van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn.
A lot could happen between now and 9 June, and so far the PVV is little more than a personality cult with only one policy. But Wilders is realistic and flexible, and chooses his friends carefully, so it is entirely possible that a few months hence, at least one major European country could have a political leader who is not only concerned about “The National Question”, but has the willingness to act.