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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — As Dutch polling stations open on Wednesday, any one of four rival party leaders could yet win power.
Volatile polls in the final days of the campaign have left the outcome on a knife-edge, with the big surprise a sudden surge in support for the far-right party of Geert Wilders.
His anti-Islam and anti-EU Freedom Party (PVV) appears to be making a dramatic comeback — one poll put him level in first place with outgoing premier Mark Rutte’s group, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
The Labour-Green alliance, led by EU veteran Frans Timmermans, and a new party of centrist outsider Pieter Omtzigt are trailing behind in third and fourth place, according to pollster Maurice de Hond. Other polls put Timmermans’ party tied in first position with Wilders, closely followed by the VVD.
However, the differences are small and, most importantly, 63 percent of voters had not yet settled on their final choice one day ahead of the election, according to one report.
A return for Wilders would be a seismic moment for politics in the Netherlands. For the last 10 years, mainstream party leaders have refused to work with him in power-sharing arrangements.
But the new leader of Rutte’s party, Dilan Yeşilgöz, said early in the campaign that she would not exclude Wilders’ PVV from coalition negotiations. Wilders has taken a more moderate tone since.
He told television current affairs show Nieuwsuur that his views on Islam are taking a back seat because “there are more important priorities” to deal with after the election, citing healthcare and social security. The first thing Wilders said during a televised debate on Monday was that “he was available” as a coalition party.
However, his anti-Islam rhetoric is still very much part of the PVV’s election program. Launched 13 years ago, the party has been campaigning to ban mosques and the Koran, as well as Islamic headscarves from government buildings.
Wilders is also openly hostile to the European Union. He wants a so-called “Nexit” referendum and on leaving the bloc has called for all weapon supplies to Ukraine to stop.
The unexpected surge of public support for Wilders’ party was first signaled by pollster de Hond – who overestimated Wilders’ share by five seats in the last election. In a survey of almost 7,000 people on 17 November, he found that the PVV and VVD were neck and neck in 26 of the 150 seats, thanks to a five-seat surge for Wilders.
POLITICO’s Poll of Polls showed Yeşilgöz leading with 18 percent as the campaign drew to its finale, closely followed by the parties of Wilders and Timmermans with 16 percent each. Omtzigt’s party has fallen back a little in recent days, to 15 percent in the Poll of Polls. Once the results are in, he could still emerge as kingmaker in coalition talks.
NETHERLANDS NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.
Even if the poll from de Hond proves to be a reliable prediction, the question is whether, and to what extent, the other parties want to work together with Wilders in government.
With his characteristic peroxide platinum hair, Wilders is the most experienced MP in parliament with 25 years under his belt. But his extreme views have kept him out of power-sharing coalitions, apart from in 2010, when he backed a Rutte minority cabinet for two years.
On Sunday, Yeşilgöz distanced herself from the PVV. “I refuse to shut out a single voter … [but] the PVV has policies like wanting the Netherlands to leave Europe, it wants a Nexit, it ignores climate problems, which would completely destroy this country,” she said.
Omtzigt has firmly ruled out joining forces with Wilders, saying his anti-Islam policies go against freedoms of expression and religion that are enshrined in the Dutch constitution.
Although Wilders emerging from the election as one of the biggest parties would be a nightmare scenario for supporters of the Green-Left alliance. Team Timmermans hopes that prospect might convince undecided and more progressive people to vote tactically for them to exclude the far right.
“It’s clear that Yeşilgöz has opened the door for Wilders in the government. This would mean someone participating in running the country who dismisses a million Dutch [Muslims] as second-class citizens,” Timmermans said.
David Turner is a globe-trotting journalist who brings a global perspective to our readers. With a commitment to shedding light on international events, he explores complex geopolitical issues, offering a nuanced view of the world’s most pressing challenges.