Dutch vote: Why it matters to the world; who the players are

PARIS (AP) — As the Netherlands elects new leadership Wednesday, its European neighbors are watching with unusual interest — because the struggle between nationalist, anti-immigrant politicians and pro-EU forces is playing out across the continent in elections later this year.
Here’s a look at Europe’s upcoming electoral battlegrounds:
Like U.S. President Donald Trump and Dutch politician Geert Wilders, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has set the tone for the campaign for France’s election with her anti-immigrant and anti-globalization stance.
Le Pen argues that Muslim immigration and economic globalization are destroying France’s identity, and polls suggest she could win the first in France’s two-round presidential election, set for April 23 and May 7.
Yet her goals — which include leaving the EU and shared euro currency, and banning Muslim headscarves and Jewish kippas anywhere in public — scare many French voters, and she is unlikely to win the decisive runoff.
Her leading rival, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, is positioning himself as the anti-Le Pen, pushing for more European integration and embracing the global online economy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen abroad as a bulwark of tolerance, is seeking re-election in September.
Committed to European unity, Merkel’s conservatives face a challenge from the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. But the party, known as AfD, has lost luster amid infighting and other scandals, and as the migrant influx that helped drive their rise has slowed.
Merkel’s biggest threat currently is from the resurgent center-left Social Democrats under former European Parliament chief Martin Schulz. Schulz is also committed to European unity; so far, he has focused his pitch on tackling perceived economic injustices at home.
Italy is facing national parliamentary elections in 2018 unless anti-establishment parties succeed in getting earlier polling, after pro-EU Premier Matteo Renzi resigned following the failure of a reforms referendum in December.
With Italy’s economy failing to rebound for years, opinion polls show the populist 5-Star Movement, led by satirical comic Beppe Grillo, is consolidating gains over the ruling Democratic Party and its allies.
But the 5 Stars have so far ruled out working in a coalition and don’t have the numbers yet to rule alone.
The other main populist force is the anti-immigrant Northern League, which has capitalized on growing discontent with unchecked migrant flows. The League has traditionally allied itself with other center-right parties but is only polling at around 13 percent on its own.
Premier Paolo Gentiloni has been running the government until new elections are held but his Democratic Party is fractured.

The leaders of Dutch parties
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — On the eve of Dutch Parliamentary elections, polls are suggesting a knife-edge vote. Political veterans and relative newcomers are moving into the spotlight as possible members of the next ruling coalition after Wednesday’s election. The leaders of five top parties span the nation’s political spectrum.
Mark Rutte at a polling station on March 15, 2017 in The Hague. (John Thys, AFP Getty)
Mark Rutte at a polling station on March 15, 2017 in The Hague. (John Thys, AFP Getty) 
MARK RUTTE: Two-term prime minister and leader of the increasingly right-wing VVD party, Rutte portrays himself as an optimist, statesman and safe pair of hands who has guided the Dutch economy out of crisis and into robust growth.
A 50-year-old bachelor, Rutte has had his optimism repeatedly tested since first taking office late in 2010, with the absolute low point the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight, including nearly 200 Dutch citizens were killed.
Rutte has been plunged into a diplomatic storm in the days leading up to Wednesday’s election, with Turkey unleashing a stream of invective against the Netherlands after the government banned two Turkish ministers from addressing weekend rallies in Rotterdam to promote a referendum on constitutional reform that would give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers.
A history graduate and former human resources manager at Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever, Rutte is a classic Dutch consensus-builder who has repeatedly managed to hammer out ad-hoc coalitions with opposition parties to force legislation through Parliament.
Geert Wilders after casting his vote during the Dutch general election, on March 15, 2017 in The Hague, Netherlands.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Geert Wilders after casting his vote during the Dutch general election, on March 15, 2017 in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images) 
GEERT WILDERS: Dutch firebrand Wilders has the eyes of the world on him, with expectations that his fortunes in Wednesday’s elections will be a guide to the rise or fall of populism in Europe this year.
The shock of his blond-dyed hair is matched by the fire of his strident anti-Islam rhetoric that has repeatedly tested the limits of Dutch freedom of speech. Even after a court found him guilty late last year of inciting discrimination against Moroccans, he responded during the election campaign by blaming “Moroccan scum” for street crime.
That kind of language has boosted his popularity in a nation where anti-immigrant sentiment has been growing for years as efforts to integrate hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries including Turkey and Morocco have faltered. His strident attacks on Islam have brought death threats, forcing him to live under extremely tight security for the last 12 years.
Dutch Green Party (Groen Links) leader Jesse Klaver  takes a selfie with  workers  at a polling station on March 15, 2017 in The Hague. ( Robin van Lonkhuijsen / AFP Getty)
Dutch Green Party (Groen Links) leader Jesse Klaver takes a selfie with workers at a polling station on March 15, 2017 in The Hague. ( Robin van Lonkhuijsen / AFP Getty) 
JESSE KLAVER: If Canada has Justin Trudeau and France has Emmanuel Macron, youthful political vigor in the Netherlands is embodied by 30-year-old Jesse Klaver, leader of the Green Left party.
In a sense, Klaver is a throwback to the iconoclastic 1970s, when the Dutch were known for their tolerance, welfare state left-wing policies and progressive stances on everything from drug use to abortion.
Look for the opposite of Geert Wilders and you stare Klaver in the face. His embrace of a multicultural society hits close to home, since he has a Moroccan father and a mother of Indonesian descent. As leader of the Green Left he defends something as traditionally Dutch as can be: the use of windmills to counter climate change.
ALEXANDER PECHTOLD: An old-school Dutch moderate centrist and strong supporter of the European Union, Alexander Pechtold is, along with Rutte and Wilders, one of the most experienced lawmakers heading into the election, having led his liberal-democratic D66’s parliamentary bloc since 2006.
An art history graduate and former auctioneer, Pechtold has been a key member of what Mark Rutte has called the “constructive opposition” in recent years, helping the government pass legislation through both houses of Parliament.
Pechtold was a vocal backer of a new law allowing advisory referenda in the Netherlands, but saw the first such vote last year backfire on his party’s pro-EU stance. Voters in a referendum rejected a pact between the EU and Ukraine, in what was widely interpreted as an anti-EU protest.
As Dutch politics has become more polarized, Pechtold appears to be profiting from occupying an increasingly lonely middle ground. He says his party could have its best election result ever on Wednesday.
SYBRAND BUMA: As Wilders’ fierce nationalism and anti-Islam rhetoric has dominated Dutch politics, Sybrand Buma has pushed the traditionally center-right Christian Democrats further to the right. The tactic appears to be paying off for a party that long was a mainstay of ruling coalitions but has spent the last four years in opposition.
Polls ahead of the election have put the Christian Democrats in third place, narrowly behind Wilders’ PVV.
Buma, a law graduate, made headlines late in the campaign by proposing populist, nationalist policies including having school children sing the Dutch national anthem in class and stripping Dutch citizens with dual nationality of their second passports — up to and including the country’s Argentine-born Queen Maxima.

Source: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/15/dutch-vote-is-step-1-as-europe-elections-test-populism/


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