Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:
The big story out of yesterday’s Dutch elections was the success of Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam, anti-immigration Freedom Party. The party nearly tripled its seats in parliament going from 9 to 24 and will likely be invited to join a coalition government by the overall winner, the center-right Liberal Party. Wilders did significantly better than was indicated by pre-election polls, which had him finighing the night with only 18 seats.
Many commentators see the infamous Bradley effect at work:
“The fact that Wilders’ Freedom Party gained more than pre-election polls had forecast could be partly explained by voters being reluctant to admit they will vote for a controversial candidate due to social desirability reasons,” said Alfred Pijpers, a senior political researcher at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.
The phenomenon is known as the Bradley effect, after Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls.
Pijpers added that the popularity of Wilders could further be attributed to a moderation of his tone during the last weeks of the campaign. “He started to smile more and let go of his strong anti-Islam rhetoric,” Pijpers said.
Having seen Wilders turn on the charm in person, I can imagine that he’s a pretty strong campaigner, but his stance on Islam pretty much defines his brand as a politician and I find it hard to believe that he changed perceptions that much in the final weeks.
The elections in the Netherlands seem to me to be a wake-up call. Holland has fared remarkably well in the Great Recession, but even there, the rise of the populist far right is unmistakable. If you put Mark Rutte’s fiscal austerity party with Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic party, you have the Dutch tea-party coalition:
A campaign that many thought would focus on immigration and Afghanistan instead seemed to turn on economic issues, with voters apparently embracing the Liberal Party’s message of austerity and spending cuts — but no tax increases — to reduce the expanding budget deficit.
But reaction to immigration was never far below the surface, with even the Liberals taking pages out of Mr. Wilders’ policies and vowing to keep immigrants from getting social benefits for 10 years.
Wilders does not hide his beliefs: his beef is not just with Islamism, but with Islam itself.
The Freedom Party, which supports a ban on Muslims entering the country and a tax on headscarves, surged from nine to 24 seats in the 150-member parliament, making it the third largest party. That’s much less than the party needs to try and form a government or join a coalition — two center-left parties have a combined 61 seats — but it makes the party the main force of the political right, and gives its leader Geert Wilders an outside chance of a role in government.
American “anti-jihad” blogs are celebrating the news, led by Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs, who calls it “a roadblock on the road to Eurabia.”
Wilders is supported in the United States by bigotbloggers Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller (and a host of less popular ankle-biters), who agree wholeheartedly with Wilders’ desire to strip Muslims of their freedom of religion and his other un-American positions, and are working hard to bring the same intolerance to America.
I find this ironic because, were the religious positions reversed, this would be a classic example of dhimmi. There is, of course, a second bit of irony in that the “Freedom” Party appears to be dead set on denying religious freedom.
It seems to me that in the case of the Netherlands, further support for this type of forced assimilation is more likely to create more Islamic radicals who are opposed to the Dutch state–not actually further any assimilation. Governments can’t make assimilation happen–nor should they try, as their attempts nearly always backfire. Protection of freedom of conscience, protection of freedom of speech, and protection of entrepeneurialism is the best way to promote assimilation. Taxes on certain cultural practices and campaigns to root out unpopular cultural practices just creates a core of people who are too proud to let the government tell them what to do and are willing to fight back as a consequence.
Coalition-building will be slow and difficult. It is highly likely that the VVD will get the first go at forming a new government. Their more likely partners are on the right – the defeated Christian Democrats and the triumphant Mr Wilders. But the inevitable changes in the CDA leadership and Labour’s comeback mean other options could be on the table. Before the elections the VVD’s leader, Mark Rutte, had indicated he would like to see a government formed in time to draft and submit the budget in September. To get this done he might yet need to dilute his programme, which includes deep cuts to social security.