Dutch voters cast ballots Wednesday at polling booths across the nation in parliamentary elections that are being closely watched as a possible indicator of the strength of far-right populism ahead of national votes in France and Germany later this year. Two-term Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing VVD party was leading in polls ahead of the Dutch vote, with the anti-Islam Party for Freedom of firebrand lawmaker Geert Wilders a close second. Wilders voted amid tight security and unprecedented media attention at a school in a modern neighborhood on the edge of The Hague early in the day.
He expressed confidence that whatever the result of Wednesday’s election, the kind of populist politics he and others in Europe represent will be here to stay. “The genie will not go back into the bottle. People feel misrepresented,” he said, predicting this would show in elections later this year in France and Germany too. “Despite what the elite wants, politicians are getting strong who have a totally different concept of what the people want them to do,” he said.
Rutte has framed the election as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of the nation’s economic recovery, while casting Wilders as a far-right radical who would not be prepared to take tough decisions.
The chance of Wilders becoming leader in this country where the proportional representation voting system all but guarantees coalition governments is small — all mainstream parties, including Rutte’s VVD, have ruled out working with Wilders. Wilders’ one-page election manifesto includes pledges to close borders to immigrants from Muslim nations, shuttering mosques and banning the Quran, as well as taking the Netherlands out of the European Union.