DUTCH opponents of Geert Wilders’s anti-Islamic right-wing populism must not be complacent, despite his setback at last week’s election, Christian ministers have warned.
Many Dutch churchpeople were relieved after the incumbent centre-right Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, held off the challenge of Mr Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) in the election. Although Mr Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) continued to be the largest party in the Dutch parliament, it lost eight seats, while the PVV gained five, making it the second largest.
The Chaplain in The Hague, the Revd Andrew Gready, said on Monday that there had been “huge” concerns before the vote that the Dutch would push Mr Wilders to the top of the poll.
Mr Rutte’s VVD remains the largest party, but many Christians were “concerned that Mr Wilders’s party was the second biggest party, and that 20 per cent of the people still voted for him”, Mr Gready said. Nevertheless, the sense of “relief” that the new coalition government will almost certainly not include the PVV was palpable in the Netherlands, he said.
The minister of the Dutch Church in London, the Revd Joost Röselaers, agreed, although he warned that not all Christians opposed Mr Wilders’s anti-Islam and nationalist message. “The populist message is growing, but not as fast as it was feared,” Mr Röselaers said. “There was a strong debate within the Churches and newspapers if the Church had to stand against populist parties.
“A few ministers and churches did write articles to say as a Christian you cannot vote for a populist party. But others said Wilders does defend our Christian values.”
The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, tweeted: “Great relief to see moderate democratic ideals triumph over the politics of fear and division in Dutch elections.”
Mr Gready said that in a hotly-contested election where turnout increased, the British members of his congregation were sad not to have been able to take part and vote, particularly as Brexit was regularly the subject of political debate. Indeed, some of his congregants were seeking Dutch citizenship amid deep uncertainty over what would happen to them once the UK leaves the EU.
Two other Christian parties, the Christian Democratic Appeal and the Christian Union, also won seats in the new parliament, with the former claiming 19 and third place overall, he noted.
“A number of the Dutch folk in our church voted for them, but we are aware that a number of more Protestant Christians were listening to Wilders and ended up voting for him. It’s something that as we seek to work together as Churches we should be aware of.”
Mr Gready and Mr Röselaers agreed that while the PVV of Mr Wilders may have been stopped from topping the poll, his rhetoric and some of his ideas were leaking into the mainstream.