Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Netherlands, long regarded as one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, woke up to a drastically changed political landscape on Thursday after a far-right party swept national elections in a result that has reverberated throughout Europe.

Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom

, which advocates banning the Quran, closing Islamic schools and entirely stopping the acceptance of asylum seekers, won 37 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, making it by far the biggest party, in a clear rebuke of the country’s political establishment.

The results, tabulated overnight after Wednesday’s voting, give Mr. Wilders enough support to try to form a governing coalition. Centrist and center-right parties long wary of the firebrand have left the door ajar to a possible partnership, giving Mr. Wilders a chance to become the Netherlands’ first far-right prime minister.

While people across the political spectrum expressed surprise at the election outcome, and the Dutch reputation of liberalism persists, experts say that Mr. Wilders succeeded by tapping into a discontent with government that dates back at least two decades.

“It’s not suddenly out of nowhere,” said Janka Stoker, a professor of leadership and organizational change at the University of Groningen.

Mr. Wilders has been a persistent political presence in the Netherlands through those years, and now it seemed his time had come.

A career politician, Mr. Wilders has served as a member of the Dutch House of Representatives since 1998. In 2004, he split from the party headed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, forming the

Party for Freedom

two years later.

Exceptionally, Mr. Wilders’s party is not based on a membership structure, making him the sole decision maker and synonymous with his party.

He is close ideologically to Marine Le Pen of France, the far-right National Rally leader, and received hearty congratulations from Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has become another icon of the far right.

At times Mr. Wilders has also been compared to former President

Donald J. Trump

, for his penchant to say things in the most direct and divisive of ways. Many of Mr. Wilders’s supporters say they feel buoyed and relieved that he is willing to give voice to what they cannot say, or feel they are not supposed to say.

Yet Mr. Wilders’s provocations have required him to move through life with a security detail, and he has said that days can go by during which he does not see the daylight.

Because of the need for security over the apparent threats against him, not much is known about Mr. Wilders’s isolated private life. He has been married since 1992 to a

Hungarian diplomat, Krisztina

. His rare public appearances guarantee that every time he ventures out he attracts a media circus.

Mr. Wilders told the Dutch magazine

Panorama

in March that as part of his security, the windows to his study are blacked out, making it impossible to see outside.

He also told the magazine that he had not been able to drive in his own car since 2004, saying it was a “symbol of freedom that I crave, but that I don’t have anymore.”

Mr. Wilders’s political talk has been so divisive that his own brother Paul has publicly spoken out against him.

Over the years, Mr. Wilders’s comments about Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands have gotten widespread media attention. They have also landed him in court.

In 2014, Mr. Wilders asked his supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, which resulted in a crowd chanting, “Fewer! Fewer!”

A Dutch court convicted Mr. Wilders of insulting a group with the anti-Moroccan chant, but he avoided punishment.

At a campaign event in 2017, Mr. Wilders referred to Moroccan immigrants as “scum.”

During the current campaign he ran on a “Dutch First” platform, though in the final days of the race he moderated some of his anti-Islam vitriol, saying there were “more important priorities.”

He also said that his proposals “would be within the law and Constitution,” in an effort to court other parties to govern with him.

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