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How Dutch populist Wilders got it all wrong
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Sept 13, 2012


Dutch populist Geert Wilders seems for once to have misjudged voters after his resounding defeat in the Netherlands election but his political career is far from over, analysts said Thursday.

The firebrand anti-Islam leader with the peroxide-bouffant, for years the best known politician outside the country, changed his target to the EU, hoping to capitalise on widespread unease at paying off southern European debt.

He brought down the previous government by pulling out of budget talks aimed at bringing the deficit within the eurozone's 3 percent limit, saying he would not bow to "the diktats of Brussels".

But in doing so, he precipitated his own defeat, with his PVV (Party of Freedom) winning just 15 seats in Wednesday's vote, a sharp drop on his 2010 tally of 24 MPs.

"I think that a large slice of his voters hadn't forgiven him for bringing down the government and forcing early elections," political communications professor Claes de Vreese of the Amsterdam University told AFP.

"If you break it you pay for it!" De Vreese said. Wilders "was held responsible for the fact that the Netherlands was left without a proper government for six months in the middle of a financial crisis."

Andre Krouwel, political analyst at Amsterdam Free University, told AFP that Wilders had simply not realised that even the Dutch tolerance of intolerance has its limits.

"Geert Wilders' anti-European rhetoric was firmly punished, that went too far for Dutch voters," Krouwel said.

Alfred Pijpers, a specialist on Netherlands-Europe relations, said that Wilders had been a collateral victim of the clash between two prime ministerial hopefuls on the centre left and right.

Liberal leader and eventual winner Mark Rutte and Labour leader Diederik Samsom, who came a close second, are now expected to form a coalition government and will rejoice at not having to rely on Wilders' support.

"Everyone got it wrong in terms of forecasting the result," Pijpers told AFP. "The core dynamic of this election was a fight between prime ministers."

In the space of a month, Samsom's centre-left PvdA party came almost from nowhere to stand a realistic chance of seeing the former Greenpeace activist as the next prime minister.

"People realised on the two sides of the political spectrum that 'I will vote for Rutte in order to keep Samsom out of office and also other way, they voted for Samsom in order to remove Rutte," said Pijpers.

As the scale of his defeat became apparent on Wednesday night, a visibly shaken Wilders wiped a solitary tear from his eye as he told his supporters that "In Brussels they are having a party... That's a pity."

"Tomorrow we will lick our wounds," he said. "This is not the end of the struggle."

Ironically Wilders, 49, started his political career with the winners of Wednesday's vote, the VVD party, which he quit after 14 years in 2004, partly over its support at the time for Turkey's EU membership bid.

Pijpers notes that Wilders is "an extremely capable politician" and "it's not true that the populists are completely defeated."

"Voting behaviour in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe is so volatile and there are so many swing voters it's very possible that if the coalition collapses, swing voters will return and populist politicians, including Wilders, will regain ground and win the election," he said.

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