The Dutch anti-Islam party ‘Party for Freedom’ (PVV) is expected to double in size at the Netherlands parliamentary elections on June 9.
Pollsters expect the PVV led by the inflammatory Geert Wilders, to double its strength from nine to 18 MPs in the 150 seat parliament on a ticket of halting the “Islamic invasion” which could be enough to make it a potential ruling coalition candidate.
“The sluice gates are wide open”, Wilders says in a campaign video that shows planes landing in Holland as women in headscarves outnumber natives in shopping street scenes.
“Every day we are confronted with mass immigration: headscarves, burqas, minarets, social security dependence, crime … it never ends,” Wilders laments as dramatic music plays in the background of the clip released ahead of June 9 parliamentary elections.
“Whole neighbourhoods are being Islamised.”
“Wilders exerts a big influence on these elections,” political analyst Martin Rosema of Twente University told AFP.
Wilders’ bold move onto the shaky ground of multi-cultural tolerance, for long a matter of Dutch pride, “has prompted other parties to adopt a stricter approach to security and the integration of Muslims”, said Rosema.
Many parties’ manifestos now propose an immigration cut, mainly for the low skilled, and harsher treatment of foreign criminals.
Wilders’ PVV came first in Almere and second in The Hague in local elections in March — the only cities it contested in its first-ever municipal campaign.
But the PVV finds itself in opposition in both cities as other parties formed coalitions to exclude it, a situation observers expect to be repeated on the national stage.
Wilders, who calls his political enemies “multi-cultural cuddlers”, claims that 40 percent of social security payments go to non-Western immigrants and that people of Moroccan origin were crime suspects five times as often as indigenous Dutch.
“What the Netherlands needs is a stop to immigration for people from Muslim countries,” says the politician who has called for a “head rag tax” on headscarves.
Twenty percent of the Netherlands’ 16.5 million-strong population is of immigrant origin.
“There is a significant group of voters for whom immigration is the most important issue,” said political science professor Philip van Praag of the University of Amsterdam.
“They believe that people of Turkish and Moroccan background and Islamic belief are damaging Dutch society. They regard them as a threat, especially in the form of criminality perceived to be committed by immigrant youths.”
Due to go on trial in October for anti-Muslim incitement, Wilders campaigns for a ban on headscarves for public servants and a moratorium on the erection of mosques in his bid to “stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands”.
Wilders, whose 17-minute movie “Fitna” was termed “offensively anti-Islamic” by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, calls Islam a fascist religion and seeks the banning of the Koran, which he has likened to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”.
At his most popular some months ago, when polls put him at number one, Wilders has slipped to fourth place as the global economic crisis starts affecting Dutch pockets, analysts say.
Budget cuts will be the big issue of the electoral campaign.
But 46-year-old Wilders, with his characteristic shock of bleached-blond hair, has been unable to shake his single-issue image.
In a recent television debate, he elicited cheers from the audience when he proposed less immigration as a solution to social security shortages, crime and the public deficit — prompting labour PvdA party leader Job Cohen to call him “a threat to our constitutional democracy”.
Wilders, known for his inflammatory one-liners, including a recent reference to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a “total freak”, is the sole member of his party.
He appoints all PVV office-bearers and has recently come under fire from within the party for his undemocratic grip.
Wilders is under 24-hour protection because of death threats.