THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders is counting on concern over Paris militant attacks to help him “paralyze” the center-right coalition government and stake a claim to greater national influence.
Accused by critics of inflaming tensions in a land that has long welcomed workers from Morocco and Turkey, Wilders goes into local elections on March 18 with his Freedom Party commanding about 25 percent support — far more than any other and enough, possibly, to give him a blocking vote in the Upper House.
Wilders, who has lived under 24-hour security since the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh a decade ago by an Islamist militant, says he will make forays onto the street to campaign. But he will appear in public only briefly surrounded by bodyguards.
His message to Dutch electors, couched with warnings of “islamization” of Europe, was direct.
“Vote, vote today. You can perhaps send the government home,” Wilders said, in an interview with Reuters. “If not, you can paralyze the government. So those are very important elections.”
However, while Wilders may be able to block legislation in the Upper House, he would be hard pressed to find coalition partners to form any national government. At best he might increase his power to press anti-immigrant policies.
Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet nearly collapsed in December after losing a vote in the Upper House, where he lacks a majority.
“Most people expect that he (Wilders) will gain some seats, and perhaps even a considerable number of seats,” Henk te Velde, a political historian at Leiden University.
But Te velde said Wilders had gained a reputation as an untrustworthy partner by pulling out of government coalition talks in 2012 after months of negotiations, triggering snap elections.
That experience, and his radical views, left him isolated from mainstream parties and made it unlikely he could lead a government after national-level elections any time soon.
Wilders sees himself vindicated in his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas by Islamist militant attacks two weeks ago in Paris that killed 17 people.
He accused Rutte of failing to jail militant jihadists and said the army should be deployed to protect potential Dutch targets.
“If somebody makes an attack, you are not a perpetrator, Mr. prime minister, but you have blood on your hands, if somebody commits a terrorist act in the Netherlands.”
Wilders wants to block all Muslim immigration and take away the passports of criminal offenders of foreign descent. He is being prosecuted for alleged discrimination against Moroccans for comments made during campaigning last March which prompted 6,400 complaints to police.
He asked supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans, triggering the chant: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!”
“It is damaging and painful,” said Farid Azarkan, chairman of the Cooperative for Dutch Moroccans, a leading dialogue partner for the Dutch government. “The division in society has increased and Moroccans feel like second-class citizens.”
Wilders, on the same al Qaeda blacklist as the slain editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, said he would travel to all 12 provinces to meet voters.
“There will be a lot of security, but I will do it anyway, even if it’s just to let the other people, the terrorists, see that they will not be able to stop the democratic process.”
An opinion poll taken after the Paris attacks showed the Freedom Party winning 31 seats in the country’s 150-seat parliament, more than doubling its showing in the 2012 elections and becoming by far the largest party. The governing Liberal-Labour coalition would win just 28 seats.
“Wherever Islam gets its foot on the ground, you see less freedom, less freedom of speech, less freedom of anything,” he said. “Of course not all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims.”
Reporting By Anthony Deutsch; editing by Ralph Boulton