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Europe

Dutch go to the polls with extreme right polling well

media People vote at the ADAM Tower in Amsterdam on 15 March, 2017. Reuters/Cris Toala Olivares

Some 13 million Dutch are casting their vote on March 15 and they can choose from 1116 cadidates who are contesting 150 seats in parliament.

The current coalition consists of the Liberal VVD (41 seats) and Labor (38 seats), but polls over the last year have indicated a much lower number, meaning that the current coalition has lost its majority.

The extreme right party of Geert Wilders topped the lists for months, but over the past week the Liberals took the lead.

Extreme right fears

Wilders is targeting the lower-middle class that increasingly worries about immigration.

And in one Hague neighborhood especially, Wilders and his Freedom Party are feared and despised.

“I voted for what is good for me: being able to stay in the country,” says Amal, 60 years. He came to Holland 30 years ago, and now feels that his existence is being threatened.

He just stepped out of the voting bureau in de Schilderswijk, a neighborhood in The Hague with a majority of Turkish and Moroccan inhabitants.

Voting takes place, almost symbolically, in the “Multi Cultural Center,” a place where immigrants can get free language lessons. And next to a center where the local youth can get tips as to how to get jobs.

“I have been working here for 30 years. In the beginning people were nice. Now this changed,” says Amal, who works with a catering company. He felt at ease in the 1980’s when immigrants were still welcomed, but feels increasingly that he is not welcome anymore.

Ozgut, another Dutch-Turkish citizen does not want to talk at all. “Direct your questions to [Geert] Wilders,” he says. “He is the root of the problem. And [Prime Minister Mark] Rutte just does what [Wilders] says,” he quips before speeding off.

Voters are coming in slowly, but the atmosphere seems relaxed.

“We have to change things in Holland. It is especially important in this time of extremism, and segregation in our country, that we come together,” says Albert, who works as a technician with film crews.

Political polarization

He, too, lives in de Schilderswijk, and has felt the atmosphere changing over the years.

As a result of the increasing polarization of national and local politics in the Netherlands, he thinks people are more and more drawn into the decision making process.

“People more and more get the feeling that they have to change something. More and more they feel that they are being rejected.”

Other inhabitants agree. “I live in this neighborhood, and I don’t feel afraid at all,” says Marianna, a scriptwriter, who says she votes for the left wing Groen Links party.

“And I really hope that with my vote, I can tell the rest of the Netherlands that, of course you can be afraid of a lot of stuff, but maybe we can tone it down a little.”

But she noticed the change in the neighborhood too. “For a couple of years, it was as if people are scared. And I think that is a really sad thing,” she says.

"There is a bit more hostility, but more in terms of people thinking that the other is afraid of them. But I live her, so know a lof of people, make small talk in the shops, so it is all right.”

And even if her preferred party wins, things won’t change overnight.

“In the last ten to twenty years, while politics were more and more move towards the right, people allowed themselves to be more and more rude towards each other. This was a very slow process. So I really hope we can change it back. But it won’t happen tomorrow,” she says.

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