Anti-Islam politician's party could take six seats in European parliament
Thursday 4 June 2009
Geert Wilders, Holland's anti-immigrant, Muslim-baiting maverick, appeared to be heading for a triumph in his first European election tonight, with polls and surveys indicating that he could win the ballot in the Netherlands.
The Dutch, as well as the British, kicked off four days of elections to the European parliament across the EU's 27 countries. Wilders cast an optimistic vote in The Hague and declared that Turkey could not join the EU "in a million years".
A detailed poll-tracking survey, predict09.eu, run by political scientists at the London School of Economics and Trinity College Dublin, indicated that Wilder's Freedom party could take 21% of the vote and six of the Netherlands' 25 seats in Brussels and Strasbourg, ahead of the traditionally governing parties, the Christian Democrats and the Labour party, which are currently in coalition.
Some Dutch opinion surveys supported the poll trackers, or put Wilders neck and neck with the Christian democrats of the prime minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende. A mock election among 15,000 pupils in 140 schools in the Netherlands this week also gave Wilders more than 19% support, ahead of all other parties.
Wilders wants the European parliament abolished, and Bulgaria and Romania kicked out of the EU. The virulence of his anti-Islam and anti-immigrant activities saw him barred from entering Britain this year and the Dutch authorities are prosecuting him for discrimination.
The poll trackers predicted six seats for Wilders, compared with a projection of three a month ago. Opinion poll support for the tall, bleach-haired populist has doubled this year, while his video film Fitna stirred outrage with its graphic depiction of Islam as synonymous with violence and terrorism.
Whether or not he wins, Wilders appeared certain to perform extremely well, highlighting the wave of euroscepticism engulfing the traditionally pro-EU country and union founding member.
Britain and the Netherlands started the 27-country election yesterday with their votes, and the polls end on Sunday.
The Dutch were expected to bend the rules governing the world's biggest transnational ballot by releasing reliable partial results and exit polls tonight .
Politicians and senior EU officials meanwhile appealed for people to use their vote amid fears the turnout would fall well below 40%, to the lowest level of the seven elections in the past 30 years.
Early indications from the Netherlands showed a slightly higher turnout than five years ago, but it was still low, at around 40%, a level half that seen in the previous general election.
About 375 million people are eligible to vote for 736 seats in the chamber, which alternates between Brussels and Strasbourg. With unemployment across the EU nudging 10% – the highest level in 10 years according to figures released this week – the recession, jobs, and worries for the future are the key issues outside Britain.
Voter confusion, apathy, and anger are likely to cause both a low turnout and a wave of anti-incumbent protest voting that will hit the mainstream parties and benefit extremists on the far right and the hard left, according to analysts. That appeared to be part of the picture in the Netherlands yesterday.
The parliament will still be dominated, however, by the two big groupings of the centre-right and centre-left, with the Christian Democrats of the European People's party mustering around 260 seats transnationally to the European Socialists' (social democrats) 200, according to the LSE team.
The new parliament has 49 fewer seats than the outgoing assembly, and outright anti-Europeans and eurosceptics are expected to increase their presence to around 100 seats.
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