Dutch parliamentary elections result in victory for anti-Islam politician, Geert Wilders. Europe is in shock.

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Thu, 2023-11-23
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Editorial note: The newsletter below is from our founding editor, Cornelis Hulsman, currently based in the Netherlands. We are always interested in hearing from our readers. You can send us a message by simply replying to this email.



Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom won 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, more than double the 17 he won in the election of 2021. The four coalition parties that formed the previous government, the Liberal VVD, the social-liberal D66, the Christian Democrat CDA, and its smaller sister, the Christian Union, all lost substantially.


Wilders (b.1963), sometimes called the Dutch Donald Trump, was prior to 2004 a member of the Dutch Parliament for the Liberal VVD, before he broke away from this party and, unlike all other political parties in the Netherlands, formed in 2006 a one-member party: Wilders alone. Others may vote and donate. Wilders can ask people he trusts for seats in Parliament but democratic decision making in his ‘party’ is nonexistent. His party has long been criticized for their lack of internal democracy but sadly the Dutch law enabled this anomaly and once he had established his party it was hard to change the law since it would be perceived as discarding the large number of Wilders voters.


Wilders is a gifted populist orator who plays on the sentiments of people who feel the Dutch government has ignored their concerns and feelings. Wilders feeds those sentiments with his speeches in Parliament, but truth doesn’t seem to matter here. Wilders’ main line of thought is anti-Islam, anti-immigration, the preservation of traditional Dutch values, and Euro-skepticism.


Wilders has long been criticized for his populist claims with no party wishing to form a coalition with him. The closest he came to power was in 2010 when he tolerated the construction of a minority cabinet formed by the liberal VVD and the Christian Democrat CDA despite almost splitting the CDA due to the internal division this gave. The construction did not last long but the CDA paid dearly with a severe loss of seats in the next Parliamentary elections from which it never recovered.


Since Wilders’ party became the largest in these elections, he will be asked to form a new cabinet which needs the support of at least 75 seats in Parliament. The Liberal VVD is likely to join him with 24 seats. Will he be able to find other parties to join him?


Foreign media responded in shock. The AP writes: “Wilders’ election program included calls for a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the European Union, a total halt to accepting asylum-seekers and migrant pushbacks at Dutch borders. It also advocates the ‘de-Islamization’ of the Netherlands. He says he wants no mosques or Islamic schools in the country, although he has been milder about Islam during this election campaign than in the past.” Milder in his speeches, not milder in his party program.

The success of Wilders is related to widespread frustration about the combination of immigration and the increased cost of living with a severe lack of affordable housing for Dutch citizens. In the debate about immigration, people often refer to asylum seekers but that is only a fraction of total migration which includes skilled laborers for Dutch companies, who can apply after only two years of employment for permanent settlement, and foreign students. Previous cabinets led by the Dutch liberal party believed this internationalization would benefit Dutch economy. It may have done so but also created resentment among citizens who felt the consequences of these policies.


The Center for Arab-West Understanding has had its own experiences with Geert Wilders and his party. In 2008, Dutch churches and Muslim organizations asked our NGO to organize a dialogue visit to Egypt after Wilders had announced he would come out with his anti-Islam film Fitna. This visit resulted in the formation of the Cairo Overleg (Cairo Committee) in the Netherlands in which churches, Muslim organizations, and Jewish organizations cooperated to foster dialogue. The committee was later renamed Overlegorgaan Joden, Christenen en Moslims (Consultancy Organization Jews, Christians and Muslims) and is still active in the Netherlands, at this moment mediating tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian constituents in the Netherlands following the Israel-Hamas war.


With the film Fitna and numerous other statements, Wilders built a reputation of misinterpreting Qur’anic verses which Arab-West Report demonstrated in a report in 2008. These misinterpretations are widely resisted in the Muslim community but are believed by large numbers of non-Muslims who in many cases know next to nothing about the diversity one finds in Islam. This rhetoric is not harmless, but contributes to divisions in society. But as long as this brings votes, it is acceptable to Wilders.


In 2011, Wilders was brought to court for his aggressive, offensive, and abusive language against Islam. On June 23, 2011, the judge called his language aggressive, but not in violation of Dutch law. The Dutch Daily Trouw argued that this verdict further reduces the limits to freedom of expression in The Netherlands. Also in 2011, PVV MP Raymond de Roon promoted inaccurate and exaggerated claims about Christian persecution in Egypt for the sake of showing a Dutch audience how awful Islam is. His paper was also rebutted by Arab-West Report. Many more examples can be given from later years. No wonder Muslim organizations in the Netherlands are in shock.


“Wilders called on other parties to constructively engage in coalition talks,” the AP reported. His calls have been welcomed by his own constituency but were met with mistrust by his opponents. One of the biggest losers in these elections were the Christian Democrats after they had denied their MP Pieter Omtzigt to become party leader in 2021. Party leaders were never a fan of Omtzigt who had criticized governments in which the Christian Democrats had participated. After the resignation of the then party leader, no new elections were written out and party leaders pushed for Wopke Hoekstra to become party leader, sidelining the party members who earlier had voted for Omtzigt. Omtzigt then built in only three months his own New Social Contract party and took in these elections a surprising 20 seats. During the campaign, Omtzigt repeatedly said that he saw no coalition that would include the party of Geert Wilders. After the election results, he said “he would always be open to talks.”  The center-left Labor Party and Green Left with 25 seats announced Wilders cannot count on a coalition with them. The New Social Contract would take an enormous risk in accepting to become a coalition party with Wilders given the experiences of the Christian Democratic Party in 2010.


The chance the Netherlands will obtain a populist right-wing cabinet that will contribute to more polarization is substantial. This makes calls for intercultural dialogue even more pressing than ever before.


Cornelis Hulsman

Founding Editor - Arab-West Report/Dialogue Across Borders

Senior Advisor - The Center for Arab-West Understanding


The Hague, November 23, 2023