According to a recent opinion poll, if parliamentary elections were held today, the Freedom Party (PVV) headed by right-wing populist leader Geert Wilders would become the largest party in the Netherlands.
It would win 27 seats in the 150-seat parliament, as opposed to the nine it currently has. The Christian Democrats – the largest party in the governing coalition – would win only 26 seats.
It is not the first time for a populist opposition group to score high in opinion polls, although it is rare for them to come out as potentially the biggest parliamentary party.
In October 2007 a survey carried out like this week’s one by pollster Maurice de Hond, predicted 27 for another right-wing populist group, Rita Verdonk’s Proud of the Netherlands party. Such a result would have made hers the second largest party in parliament.
Ms Verdonk currently has one seat in parliament – her own – into which she was elected when still a member of the conservative liberal party VVD. Mr Wilders, too, is a VVD renegade.
A couple of years earlier, Pim Fortuyn’s LPF party scored 28 seats in a poll immediately after his assassination in May 2002. In the general elections of that month, the LPF gained 26 seats, which secured its participation in a short-lived coalition government.
In subsequent elections Pim Fortuyn’s heirs eventually lost all of their seats and the party was disbanded.
Mr Wilders’ popularity has been rising ever since an Amsterdam appeals court decided to try him for anti-Muslim comments six weeks ago. He has since received even more exposure following Great Britain’s refusal of permission to enter the country.
Mr Wilders had been invited to Britain to show his anti-Koran film Fitna to members of the House of Lords. Although he landed at London’s Heathrow Airport, he was denied permission to enter the country and forced to return to the Netherlands.
Last week, Mr Wilders was in the US at the invitation of Republican Senator Jon Kyl to show his movie on Capitol Hill and discuss his anti-Islamic policies with Senators and Representatives. In the end, few Congress members found time to talk with the PVV leader. His visit took place on the very day that President Barack Obama held his first policy speech to Congress.
For more information: www.radionetherlands.nl