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article imageDutch populist Wilders caught by own campaign

By Nicolas Delauny (AFP)     May 23, 2014 in World

Dutch populist Geert Wilders was a surprise failure of the European elections, having failed to motivate his own supporters to go out and vote despite an aggressively anti-EU campaign.

The defeat of Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) is not expected to affect the success of populist eurosceptics elsewhere in Europe, where parliament elections are being held until Sunday, but analysts say it demonstrates the paradoxical challenge they face: getting citizens to vote for a body they have no faith in.

"Geert Wilders simply didn't manage to mobilise his followers," said political analyst Andre Krouwel of VU University Amsterdam.

Exit polls after Thursday's vote said Wilder's PVV won just 12.2 percent of the vote, compared to 17 percent in 2009, winning just three MEP seats, two less than at the last election.

The PVV ended in fourth place, behind the pro-Europe centrist D66 and CDA, exit polls said, with final results to be announced Sunday evening.

Mayor Onno Hoes of Maastricht in southern Netherlands casts his ballot  the first citizen to do so  ...
Mayor Onno Hoes of Maastricht in southern Netherlands casts his ballot, the first citizen to do so, for the European elections, just after midnight on Thursday, May 22, 2014
Marcel Van Hoorn, ANP/AFP

"Against all expectations, the PVV is the big loser of the European elections," the Financieele Dagblad daily wrote on Friday.

"Geert Wilders failed to turn this election into a referendum on Europe," wrote protestant daily Trouw.

Opinion polls had suggested that the PVV could win up to six seats, out of the 26 that the Netherlands can send to the 751-seat European parliament.

"Opinion polls are carried out on a representative slice of society," analyst Krouwel told AFP. "But on voting day some of that representative slice stayed at home."

"On a caricatural level, you could say that Geert Wilders' voters are less educated than for instance these centrists, so its a group that is less inclined to go and vote," said Bert van den Braak, politics researcher at Leiden University.

"Geert Wilders probably also got caught out by his own game," he said. "When you constantly tell your followers that the EU is useless, you shouldn't be surprised when they don't vote."

Moreover, Wilders' voters are less interested in EU themes than the traditional bugbear of immigration, said Van den Braak.

Dutch populist Geert Wilders cuts a piece from an European flag displaying a star  supposedly repres...
Dutch populist Geert Wilders cuts a piece from an European flag displaying a star, supposedly representing his country, on May 20,2014
Georges Gobet, AFP

His support also dropped after he called in March for "fewer Moroccans", heralding an unprecedented storm of protest against the outspoken populist.

"The call in itself probably didn't affect the outcome of the European election, but the subsequent defections from his own party certainly did," said Van den Braak.

Among those who quit was the PVV's leader in the European parliament, Laurence Stassen.

"I don't think that Geert Wilders' result will herald bad results for populists elsewhere in Europe," said Krouwel.

"Whether its UKIP in Britain or the National Front in France, the dynamic is different.

The result of Britain's elections won't be known until Sunday, but UKIP's success in local elections should be mirrored on a European level, Krouwel said.

Nevertheless, populist ant-EU parties will have to fight hard to motivate their followers.

"They're a similar electorate to the PVV's," said Van den Braak. "They also must be pushed to vote."

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