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Far-right candidate calls for Dutch ban on Muslim immigrants

March 12, 2017 at 5:14 PM EDT
Tensions between Turkey and the Netherlands continue to rise three days before Dutch voters head to the polls for elections. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is seeking a third term, faces challenges from a far-right nationalist candidate who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant joins Hari Sreenivasan from Amsterdam with more.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on the Netherlands election, I am joined by Skype by from Amsterdam by “NewsHour” weekend special correspondent Malcolm Brabant.

Malcolm, we don’t usually pay attention in the United States to elections in the Netherlands. Why is this one so significant?

MALCOLM BRABANT, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is first of three important European elections taking place this year. The others are taking place in France and Germany and what everybody’s waiting to see can whether or not the continuation of this antiestablishment votes, the nationalistic vote that began with Brexit in Europe last year is going to continue here because the main contender for the prime minister’s job here is Geert Wilders, and he is a very strong anti-Islamist, so much so that he’s had lots of death threats, and he really is just campaigning on that particular issue.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Even if he wins the most number of votes, there has to be a coalition government?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Absolutely. And the current prime minister, Mark Rutte, seems to be doing a little bit better than he was. He — during the course of the past few months, he’d been losing votes to Wilders. But Wilders has been dropping votes in the past few days, according to the opinion polls, and as we’ve seen throughout all of those recent elections, the opinion pools is just something you can’t trust. And the indication is there are lots of people who support his Freedom Party as it’s called, who don’t really want to declare their intentions. And so, perhaps he might be better on the night but the anticipation is that he won’t get enough to be able to form a government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: is what happens when Brexit takes place or this is what happens when President Donald Trump wins the White House, that these are the consequences? Are they having any kind of thoughts about that, looking at what could be an upheaval politically in the Netherlands as well?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Well, I think the Trump effect is kind of a double edged sword. And a few months ago, Mr. Wilders was really lauding (ph) Donald Trump saying that he was going to follow in his shoes. And when I caught up — I caught up with him yesterday at a rally down in the south of the country, he is still trying to distance himself.

Now, there are some people who believe because of the way in which Donald Trump’s presidency has vetted in as it were, has not been particularly sort of well-received are internationally. But that might harm Wilders’ efforts. But he is at pains to point out yesterday that he’s not campaigning on American issues, he’s doing specifically at Dutch issues and that’s what it’s all about.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Malcolm, what is the central issue that’s driving people to the polls?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Wilders has really made this a one subject issue election. He’s been concentrating on Islam, immigration, nothing else. If he gets his way, there will be no more asylum seekers, no more immigrants from Islamic countries. There will be no Islamic scholars (ph) in public places. He’ll ban — he’ll close down mosques and Islamic schools, ban the Koran.

And so, the economy really hasn’t sort of taken the front stage and that sort of suddenly upsets people in the labor unions, who have seen their taxes go up, who’ve seen their benefits slash, who’ve seen their pensions go down and they are really concerned that these sort of things aren’t being discussed.

But they — some labor unions may possibly support Wilders as a protest vote because they’re fed up with ordinary politicians.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Malcolm Brabant joining us from a very busy thoroughfare in the Amsterdam, via Skype — thanks so much.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Thank you.

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