So far, his party has been a wallflower in the political arena. Other parties have found his standpoints too extreme to bring on board. Today, however, looks very different. As the leader of the largest political party, Geert Wilders seems destined to become Prime Minister - at least he himself claims so. It would seem like going against the will of the people to stand in his way. But still, most other parties are reluctant to work with him.
In its leader comment the morning after, the Dutch Christian daily newspaper Nederlands Dagblad recalled what kind of party and what kind of leader the country had just elected to be its next PM:
‘Geert Wilders, who for years on end has branded democratically elected colleagues traitors to their country and a fake parliament. Who called the rule of law ‘corrupted’, after he had been persecuted and fined for collective insult. Who for years on end has hatefully offended entire sections of the population, because of their faith (Muslims) or their origin (Moroccan, Eastern European etc). Who wants to abolish religious freedom, leave the European Union, do away with the euro, end the military support to Ukraine, post soldiers along the nation’s borders, ban headscarves, disband climate policy and energy transition. Who wants to revert the apologies the King made last July for the nation’s slavery record. And so on, and so on.’
In the run-up to these latest elections, Mr Wilders ran a brilliant campaign in which he presented himself in a more moderate way, and pledged if he won, to be ‘the Prime Minister of all Dutch people’ - leaving aside the question what a person needs to qualify for being ‘Dutch’. Now he wants to cash in on his victory to finally and decisively put his stamp on the country’s policies. At 60 years old, it may well be his last chance.
But if he is to lead the next government, and be successful at it, he will need to go through no less than a ‘deradicalisation programme’, the Nederlands Dagblad commentator wrote: ‘That’s the kind of test you can pass, but also fail.’
From Dutch Christians, you might say, the response to the first election victory of a populist party came in stages.
At first, many of them were shocked, dismayed, and anxious. Their faith prompted them to strive for a government that will reach out to the poor, respect minority rights, care for the environment and welcome refugees. They had always known that Mr Wilders and his party had totally opposite ideas. But they had never expected him to gain any real political influence. Now, it felt as if they had woken up in a different country.
But once some of the dust had settled down, there came room for other considerations, too. Surely not all 2.4 million PVV voters could be classified as extremists. The size of its electorate puts it rather in the range of a mainstream conservative party. Many people had voted for Mr Wilders out of disillusionment with the established parties who had governed the country for decades - and rightly so.
It is one thing to say we must welcome asylum seekers, but it is another when you can’t find a place to live, because there is a shortage of affordable housing and refugees seem to get priority. It is one thing to say the government is there to support people who need help, but it is another when you experience you’re immediately suspected of fraud when you apply for a benefit.