‘It’s scary’: residents in Rotterdam reflect on Geert Wilders’ election win | Netherlands #scary #residents #Rotterdam #reflect #Geert #Wilders #election #win #Netherlands

In this tiny plaza, still plastered with posters urging voters to back the minority rights party Denk, the yawning divide between voters in Rotterdam’s diverse Feijenoord district was on full display.

On one side stood Nas Kosa, a Muslim who fears what might lie ahead after Geert Wilders’ far right, anti-Islam party surged to win more seats than any other party in Wednesday’s election.

“We are afraid. Afraid about the decisions that will come,” said Kosa, who was born in the Netherlands to parents from Turkey. “Must we go? Where are we going to go? Netherlands is our country … it’s really scary.”

Across the street, Hasan Jakh, a recently arrived immigrant from Turkey, confessed he had voted for Wilders, driven by his frustration over the lack of affordable housing. “It’s stupid that he’s so Islamophobic,” he said. “But for the rest, he’s great.”

Abdel Amraoui
Abdel Amraoui. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

The contrasting narratives emerging from this corner of Rotterdam – where Wilders’ party won the most votes despite the city’s ranking as one of Europe’s most diverse –hint at how, days after his Party for Freedom (PVV) doubled its 2021 result to take 37 seats, many were left wondering what exactly to make of it all.

“It’s a pity,” said Abdel Amraoui, who moved to the Netherlands from Morocco three decades ago. “It says a lot about how society thinks. It seems like many people agree with what he’s saying.”

His wife, Saliha, chimed in. “Let’s see if he can do all the things he said he would.”

Wilders’ surge in support was likely driven by two voting blocs, said Mark van Ostaijen, an assistant professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

One was voters concerned about migration, with many choosing to back Wilders as other parties doubled down on the issue. “As political scientists always say, people vote for the original and not the second-best option,” said van Ostaijen.

The second bloc was made up of voters looking for drastic change, with Wilders managing to harness a good chunk of the protest vote that has been a consistent presence in Dutch politics for the past two decades, he said.

“If you talk to PVV voters, they just want to protest. They just want to get their voice out and get heard so that things will change.”

What comes next on the Dutch political scene is anyone’s guess. There’s little guarantee that Wilders will be able to cobble together enough support to lead a government with a majority in the Netherlands’ 150-seat parliament.

If he does manage to do so, however, the coalition will have to rely on at least three other parties, meaning the most extreme parts of PVV’s manifesto, such as the banning of the Qur’an and mosques and a total halt in accepting asylum seekers, will likely be tempered.

Harche Mohamadi.
Harche Mohamadi. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

Even so, many of those gathered outside the Essalam mosque, one of the largest in the Netherlands, for prayers on Friday were swift to point out the underlying message sent by the swell of support for a politician who has long taken aim at Islam.

Rachida, 24, said the election had transformed how she saw the Netherlands. “I thought that everybody was very tolerant but I don’t think so any more. They showed their true colours.”

Born in the Netherlands to parents from Morocco, she was particularly upset about how people had come to embrace Wilders, despite his problematic portrayal of Moroccans, from describing them as “scum” to promising he would work to ensure there were “fewer Moroccans” in the country.

“It hurts,” she said. “The way they tell it, it’s like we’re terrorists and we hate everybody. If you really know Moroccan people, they’re really not like that.”

Others pointed to Wilders’ promises to tackle the housing and cost of living crises to say they understood why so many in the country had backed him.

“I agree with many of the things that Wilders said but I don’t like that he’s against Islam and against foreigners,” said Nuri Altan, 57.

Originally from Turkey, he has lived in the Netherlands for more than five decades, and said he had voted for Denk.

As many struggle to make ends meet or get ahead, it is likely that Wilders drew support from surprising segments of the population, said Harche Mohamadi, a board member of the Essalam mosque.

“I think many Muslims voted for Wilders,” he said. When asked why, he pointed to the years of perceived stagnation under mainstream parties.

“Rotterdam is one of the poorest cities in the Netherlands. Many promises have been made when it comes to health insurance and taxes, but they haven’t been fulfilled.”

Raja Boutarada
Raja Boutarada. Photograph: Judith Jockel/The Guardian

Some sought solace in the bigger picture. “I think the Dutch people were a little bit fed up,” said Raja Boutarada, 39, who moved to Holland in 2007 from Morocco, citing high taxes and the long waits for social housing.

“I don’t think people voted for him because they are racist, but because they were fed up with some things.”

She said she was worried about what would happen next. “Of course I am, because he has a history. And I don’t think he’ll change what is in his mind,” she said. “So we’ll just wait and stay positive.”

#scary #residents #Rotterdam #reflect #Geert #Wilders #election #win #Netherlands

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