On March 15, the Netherlands will hold their parliamentary elections, where they essentially elect their local representatives in government, called Members of Parliament, our version of Congress.
Unlike the United States, countries with parliamentary systems almost always have several parties to choose from, which gives residents the opportunity to have a more diverse government that better represents the will of the people.
If one political party has enough of their MPs elected to form a majority (for example, 76 representatives in a parliament of 150 seats), then they essentially control the government and their party leader likely becomes prime minister. If there’s no majority, parties form coalitions until they have one, and the leader of the party that got the most votes still usually becomes prime minister.
Normally this is all trivial stuff and few people outside the Netherlands cares what happens in their elections.
In fact, unless you’re talking about planning a trip to Amsterdam with the bros, few Americans have any interest at all in discussing the Netherlands.
But on March 15, the stakes in the Netherlands have never been higher.
And that’s because the election has basically become a referendum on far-right populist ideologies that are being increasingly espoused by radically conservative politicians across the world, most notably in the U.S. by Donald Trump.
With populist movements threatening to gain influence in countries like France and Germany, the Netherlands elections are being viewed as a global bellwether of the European political temperature – especially since Netherlands is historically one of the most socially liberal countries in the world.
Their version of Donald Trump? A man by the name of Geert Wilders (last name pronounced Vilders), a bleached-blonde, slimy looking, Islam-hating, refugee-loathing agitator who has stirred the pot within his country and has had a far-reaching influence worldwide.
He’s proposed closing all mosques, banning the Qu’ran, and has called the hijab a “useless piece of cloth.” He’s also being partly funded by American conservative groups.
And as recently as a couple of weeks ago, his populist “Party of Freedom” was predicted to take the most seats in parliament in the upcoming elections. Closer to the election, the outcome looks a little murkier, but Wilders’s goal of instilling far-right ideologies into the country has already been accomplished.
Because his party is so unpopular among his fellow politicians, it’s highly unlikely that Wilders would be able to form a coalition even if his party wins the most seats, meaning he will not likely become the country’s next government chief.
We received a sort-of heartening precursor for what’s to come when Austrians rejected a far-right candidate during their most recent elections.
But Geert Wilders isn’t comparable to Trump just because of his views, but because of his celebrity and his mannerisms. For one, he tweets a lot. And he’s often followed in public by a gaggle of reporters.
Wilders has been the subject of death threats, and as a result has lived a very isolated life where he reportedly only sees his wife a couple times a week, sleeps in a different place every night, and is under 24-hour police surveillance.
And unlike Trump, he has actually been legally charged for inciting discrimination.
On March 15 we will have a clearer answer as to whether people like Trump are the new normal.
And if that happens, threatening to leave your country may no longer be a viable option to escape populism.
Those seven planets we discovered a couple of weeks ago…
Are they inhabitable yet?