Geert Wilders: the anti-Islam, anti-EU populist who could be next Dutch PM

By Charlotte Van Campenhout

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Geert Wilders, the Dutch populist whose anti-Islam comments have led to death threats, could become the next leader of the Netherlands following an election upset for his Freedom Party (PVV) on Wednesday.

After 25 years in Dutch politics without holding office, Wilders was set to lead coalition government talks and has a good chance of becoming prime minister.

An exit poll on Wednesday evening showed the PVV in a clear lead, 10 seats ahead of its closest rival, Frans Timmermans’ Labour/Green Left combination.

“We will have to find ways to live up to the hopes of our voters, to put the Dutch back as number one”, Wilders said in his first response, adding that “the Netherlands will be returned to the Dutch, the asylum tsunami and migration will be curbed.”

Wilders was convicted for discrimination against Moroccans after leading a chant at a campaign rally in 2014, when he asked the crowd whether they wanted more, or fewer Moroccans. After supporters chanted “Fewer!” he answered: “We’re going to take care of that.”

Wilders said in 2021, when the Supreme Court upheld his conviction, that he was the victim of a “witch hunt” and a broken legal system.

Having made strongly anti-EU comments in the past, he moderated his tone over the election campaign as he sought to get his party into government. He will have to work with pro-EU parties to form a coalition.

But he kept to his strict anti-immigration, Dutch-first approach, winning his PVV its largest support in its 17-year existence.

“It’s enough now. The Netherlands can’t take it anymore. We have to think about our own people first now. Borders closed. Zero asylum-seekers,” Wilders said in a television debate on the eve of the election.

“Wilders is by far the best campaigner. Even his political opponents will admit that,” author Willem Post of the Netherlands’ Clingendael Institute think-tank said.

“He’s the one-liner guy, he’s a bit like (former U.S. President Donald) Trump.”

Wilders’ inflammatory views on Islam have prompted death threats and he has lived under heavy police protection for years. He has called the prophet Mohammad a “paedophile”, Islam a “fascist ideology” and “backward religion”, and wants to ban mosques and Quorans, the Muslim holy book, in the Netherlands.

His comments have led to sometimes violent protests in nations with large Muslim populations, including Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt. In Pakistan, a religious leader issued a fatwa against him.

A self-proclaimed fan of nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Wilders is explicitly anti-EU, urging the Netherlands to take back control of its borders, to significantly reduce its payments to the union, and to block the entrance of any new members.

Wilders has also repeatedly said the Netherlands should stop providing arms to Ukraine, as he says the country needs the weapons to be able to defend itself. However, none of the parties he could potentially form a government with share these ideas.

The politician is one of the Netherlands’ most recognisable figures thanks to his dyed blond mane, but little is known about his private life, except that he is married to a Hungarian-born woman and has two cats – who have their own Instagram and X accounts.

On a kids’ TV program, Wilders last week said he enjoyed playing “Mario Kart” on his PlayStation and reading Donald Duck comics.

(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout, Toby Sterling and Bart Meijer; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Rosalba O’Brien)