World

Geert Wilders: Anti-Islam firebrand known as ‘Dutch Donald Trump’

Geert Wilders was once banned from entering the UK (AP)
Geert Wilders was once banned from entering the UK (AP) Geert Wilders was once banned from entering the UK (AP)

Geert Wilders has been called the Dutch Donald Trump.

He has been threatened with death countless times by Islamic extremists, convicted of insulting Moroccans, and Britain once banned him from entering the country.

Now, Mr Wilders has won a massive victory in a Dutch election and is in pole position to form the next governing coalition, and possibly become the Netherlands’ next prime minister.

An exit poll revealing his landslide appeared to take even 60-year-old political veteran Mr Wilders by surprise.

In his first reaction, posted in a video on X, he spread his arms wide, put his face in his hands and said simply “35!” – the number of seats an exit poll forecast his Party for Freedom (PPV) won in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

In fact, his party was later forecast to take 37 seats, with almost all votes counted on Thursday morning.

Mr Wilders has long been one of the Netherlands’ best-known legislators at home and abroad. His populist policies and shock of peroxide blond hair have drawn comparisons with Mr Trump.

Geert Wilders
Geert Wilders Mr Wilders celebrates with party members after winning the most votes in the Dutch general election (AP)

But, unlike the former US president, he seemed destined to spend his life in political opposition.

The only time Mr Wilders came close to governing was when he supported the first coalition formed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte in 2010.

But Mr Wilders did not formally join the minority administration and brought it down after just 18 months in office in a dispute over austerity measures. Since then, mainstream parties have shunned him.

They no longer can.

“The PVV wants to, from a fantastic position with 35 seats that can totally no longer be ignored by any party, cooperate with other parties,” he told cheering supporters at his election celebration in a small bar in a working class suburb of The Hague.

Whether he can piece together a stable coalition with former political foes remains to be seen.

As well as alienating mainstream politicians, his fiery anti-Islam rhetoric also has made him a target for extremists and led to him living under round-the-clock protection for years. He has appeared in court as a victim of death threats, vowing never to be silenced.

Voting on Wednesday at The Hague City Hall, Mr Wilders was flanked by security guards scanning the cavernous space for possible threats. He has moved from one safe house to another over nearly two decades.

In 2009, the UK Government refused to let him visit the country, saying he posed a threat to “community harmony and therefore public security”.

Mr Wilders had been invited to Britain by a member of Parliament’s upper house, the House of Lords, to show his 15-minute film, Fitna, which criticises the Koran as a “fascist book”.

The film sparked violent protests around the Muslim world in 2008 for linking Koranic verses with footage of terrorist attacks.

To court mainstream voters this time around, Mr Wilders toned down the anti-Islam rhetoric and sought to focus less on what he calls the “de-Islamisation” of the Netherlands and more on tackling issues such as housing shortages, the cost-of-living crisis and access to good healthcare.

His campaign platform nonetheless calls for a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the European Union, an “asylum stop” and “no Islamic schools, Korans and mosques”, although he pledged on Wednesday night not to breach Dutch laws or the country’s constitution that enshrines freedom of religion and expression.

Mr Wilders is set to become the longest-serving legislator in the Dutch parliament later this year.

He has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1998, first for the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, where he mentored a young Mr Rutte before quitting the party and setting up his Party for Freedom.

He demonstrated a softer side on Wednesday night by thanking his Hungarian-born wife Krisztina for her support.

The politician also is a staunch supporter of Israel and advocates shifting the Embassy of the Netherlands there to Jerusalem and closing the Dutch diplomatic post in Ramallah, home of the Palestinian Authority.

Mr Wilders is known for his hardline politics, but also for his witty one-liners – and his pets.

His two cats, Snoetje and Pluisje, have their own account on X, formerly Twitter, with nearly 23,000 followers.