Dutch Election Expected To Be Another Test For Anti-Immigrant Stance
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We usually don't report all that much on Dutch elections, but this year's is different. That is because one of the frontrunners in Wednesday's parliamentary race is Geert Wilders. He's an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam populist who founded the far-right Party for Freedom. After the U.K.'s Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory here in the United States, people will be watching very closely to see if populism has legs in Europe. And this is in advance of elections coming in France and Germany. Let's turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who has been following the Dutch election. He's in Amsterdam and on the line. Frank, good morning.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: Start, if you can, with this huge diplomatic blowup over the weekend between the Netherlands and Turkey and how that's figuring into this election.
LANGFITT: Yeah, it was really interesting. You know, the Turkish government minister drove to Rotterdam on Saturday. And she wanted to lobby Turks here - there is a very big Turkish community here in Holland - to vote on a referendum back home to increase power for the president - back there in Turkey. The government here did not want a Turkish political battle coming to Dutch soil. So the Dutch police actually stopped the government minister and then took her back to Germany. This caused riots on Saturday night in Rotterdam. And the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he was furious about this. And he called the Dutch government a bunch of fascists.
GREENE: Well, OK, Frank, how does that whole flare-up play into the Dutch election?
LANGFITT: Well, Erdogan says it, from his perspective, is all actually really about Dutch politics. He thinks that the government here is trying to look tough before Wednesday's election, especially because it's facing this challenge from Wilders. There's been a long debate over whether Turkey should join the European Union. Wilders is bitterly against it, and here's how he put it in a 2015 video.
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GEERT WILDERS: You are no Europeans, and you will never be. An Islamic state like Turkey does not belong to Europe. All the values Europe stands for - freedom, democracy, human rights - are incompatible with Islam. So Turkey, stay away from us.
GREENE: OK, so real anti-Turkey talk there. And that was something that Wilders said before. And that, really, I guess, has made this whole issue with Turkey the backdrop. I mean, is he coming out of this whole flare-up with Turkey ahead as we approach this election?
LANGFITT: Well, it's very complicated. I mean, even yesterday, he actually was saying any Turks who, you know, feel like they really want to vote in this Turkish election, they should go back to Turkey. They really like the president there. They should go back. So he's using it, in some ways, to divide the nation and point out that there is a big immigrant or even second-generation community here, kind of raising questions about their identity.
On the other hand, Mark Rutte, the prime minister here, he was the one who took the hard line against the Turks. And political parties and the public have rallied around him. So in the short run, it seems - and we're getting really close to the election - it actually seems to have also helped the prime minister quite a bit.
GREENE: Tell me a little bit about Wilders if you can, Frank, this populist candidate. What's he like on the campaign trail?
LANGFITT: It was fascinating. I was actually down in the south with him on Saturday. It's a rare opportunity. You know, because of all of his anti-Islam rhetoric, he's been under death threat for years. So he lives in isolation, he - under high security. He rarely goes out and campaigns. When I saw him in this little town, he was surrounded by two to three dozen cops. It was this really tight scrum. There were always, it seemed, helicopters overhead.
And I was with a Dutch colleague. She noticed he had a crease in the shoulder of his suit coat, which showed that he was actually wearing a bulletproof vest underneath. In the crowds, he's very personable. He took tons of selfies. And also, it's really interesting. He has this bleached-blond pompadour. And it's very striking. And he kind of looks like a lion.
GREENE: That's interesting. And how do people react to him?
LANGFITT: Very warm. Many people feel he's really looking out for ordinary Dutch in all of this. I was talking to a woman named Denise Ganssen. She's in her early 30s. Here's what she said.
DENISE GANSSEN: He's like a real leader. He's very strong. He's a strong politician. He really stands up for what he believes in. I mean, he gave up - he gave up his freedom to fight for ours, which makes him, like - he's a hero.
GREENE: OK, so he's a hero to Denise. Frank, how is he supposed to do when this vote happens on Wednesday?
LANGFITT: Well, it's interesting. He had been leading for months, but he's been slipping in the polls. And while some people may see Wilders as possibly being another big blow for populism here in Holland and in Europe, in fact, he may not do that well. And it may be seen as a big setback.
GREENE: All right. That is NPR's Frank Langfitt in Amsterdam setting up the Dutch elections, which are coming this Wednesday. Frank, thanks.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David.
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