Dutch far-right campaign on anti-Islam platform in local elections
Written in red typeface with blood dripping from the letters, the message has appeared again and again on television sets across the Netherlands: "Islam is deadly."
That message is part of a video of anti-Islam statements released by Geert Wilders' right-wing populist Party for Freedom (PVV) before voters go to the polls this week to elect local councils.
"It is simply tasteless," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said of Wilders' video.
After last year's general elections, Rutte's centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) struggled for seven months to form a government, while the PVV became the second-strongest force in Dutch parliament.
Wednesday's municipal election, during which Dutch voters will cast their ballots for the representatives of 335 municipal councils, has been seen as the first political litmus test since last year's federal election. Despite his recent political success, Wilders has been politically isolated – nearly every Dutch party refuses to co-operate with him.
"It is not always pleasant to know the truth," Wilders said in response to the outcry over his video. "But that doesn't make it any less true."
Rutte's coalition partner, the left-liberal Democrats 66 (D66) party, struck back at Wilders with a counter video on Twitter, saying "The Netherlands stand for equality, tolerance, diversity and freedom of religion."
The PVV will appear on the ballot in 30 of the municipal electorates. In 2014, it appeared on just two.
But Wilders now faces strong competition from far-right competitors.
The rising star is the Forum for Democracy (FvD) party headed by ultra right-wing academic Thierry Baudet. The FvD made a surprise leap into federal parliament, winning two seats last election. Originally established as a forum by Baudet, its racially-charged rhetoric – Baudet claimed that immigration is responsible for the "homeopathic dilution of the Dutch people" – quickly caught the public's attention.
Calling for a law on the preservation of "Dutch values," Baudet's once-fringe party has grown from 5,000 to 23,000 members over the last year.
The FvD propagates the virtues of strong nation states, wants to call a referendum on Holland's membership to the EU as it battles the "cartel" of the established parties. Baudet, a 35-year-old legal scholar, has also attracted attention with his eccentric antics. He opened his first speech in parliament in Latin, brought a grand piano to The Hague and has gone on television sniffing bags of lavender.
Baudet's elite education and certain brand of debonair populism has now overtaken that of the coarser Wilders: the FvD is leading the PVV in the polls, even though it is only running in two cities: on its own in Amsterdam and in a coalition in Rotterdam with the right-wing populist Liveable Rotterdam party, which is already in the local government.
In traditionally liberal Amsterdam, Baudet's party could win as many seats as the Labour Party (PvdA), despite the mainstream parties trying to drive the far-right out of public focus. PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher, for example, has urged the public to "pay less attention to the clowns." And the voters? A recent poll showed two-thirds undecided. (dpa)