Leftwing parties in the Netherlands have urged people to vote strategically to avoid a far-right government after a poll showed last-minute gains for Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV).
Wilders, whose manifesto calls for an asylum “stop” and ban on “Islamic schools, Qu’rans and mosques”, said it was a “game changer” when a poll on Saturday evening put him level with Mark Rutte’s party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
The pollster Maurice de Hond – who overestimated Wilders’ share by five seats in the last election – found in a survey of almost 7,000 people on 17 November that the PVV and VVD were neck and neck in 26 of the 150 seats, thanks to a five-seat surge for Wilders after an aggressive performancee in a television debate.
Pollsters pointed out that two other major polls are coming out on Monday and Tuesday. Sjoerd van Heck, of Ipsos, said that if Wilders has surged in all of the last polls, including its own, “a rallying effect of leftist voters seeking to block a PVV-led government is likely to happen”.
Since the new head of Rutte’s party, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, said early in the campaign that she would not, like Rutte, exclude the PVV from coalition negotiations, Wilders has taken an intermittently milder tone. In an interview with the current affairs programme Nieuwsuur, he promised concessions on anti-Islam polities, but has never apologised for calling for “fewer Moroccans” in a 2014 speech for which he has a criminal record.
Leftwing leaders were quick to warn progressive voters to vote strategically for the centre parties. Frans Timmermans, the European heavyweight who is leading a new coalition of Labour and the GreenLeft, said: “It’s clear that Ms Yeşilgöz has opened the door for Wilders in the government. This would mean someone participates in running the country who dismisses a million Dutch [Muslims] as second-class citizens.”
The new head of the D66 liberal democrats, Rob Jetten, said there was a “big risk” of an extreme-right government.“The VVD, knowing full well what it was doing, let the government fall [in July], when it could have led migration on to a better path, then Yeşilgöz sets the door wide open to Wilders, so she has created this dynamic,” he told the broadcaster NOS.
With three days before elections, pundits say the outcome is hard to call in this splintered, proportionally representative system. Another leading candidate, Pieter Omtzigt, and his New Social Contract party have repeatedly said they would not govern with the “anti-constitutional” PVV.
Following the poll, on Sunday afternoon, Omtzigt said that he is open to becoming prime minister if his party wins the most seats and has a cabinet of ministerial subject specialists. A week ago he told reporters he would rather lead his faction from parliament than take up residence in the PM’s tower.
A key potential coalition partner, the Farmer-Citizen Movement, has suggested the PVV could be a silent partner supporting a minority government – although this arrangement ended disastrously for a previous Rutte administration.
On Sunday, Yeşilgöz-Zegerius – a former refugee of Turkish-Kurdish origin who is campaigning for further controls on immigration – distanced herself from extreme viewpoints. “I refuse to shut out a single voter … [but] the PVV has policies like wanting the Netherlands to leave Europe, it wants a Nexit, it ignores climate problems, which would completely destroy this country,” she told the broadcaster WNL on Sunday.
“The differences are enormous. Wilders has had a constructive week, his tone is moderated, all his standpoints are being binned: I don’t know how believable that is.”
De Hond told the Guardian that while 60% of voters were still considering two parties, the surge he measured may come true and was certainly affecting the debate.
“You can be number one and still not in the government,” he said. “A lot of voters want to show they are not happy with how [Rutte’s] government operated. The four parties in the last government together will lose around 40% of their votes, which will go to protest parties. Wilders has been on television when before he was not, and in a debate on Thursday on a TV channel with most rightwing potential voters, he was number one by far.”
But, he admitted, “voters can move in the last couple of days”.