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Dutch Election: In Dutch Election, European Populism Faces a Big Test

• Fears of hacking and outside interference are rife, so all vote tallying will be done be hand.


Jesse Klaver, the Green Party leader, left, with campaign workers after voting in The Hague. Credit Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The young leader who’s getting attention

On the other end of the spectrum from Mr. Wilders is a new figure: Jesse Klaver, 30, the leader of the Greens, or Green Left. The party holds just four seats in Parliament but seems poised to make big gains.

Younger, more energetic and more openly urban and cosmopolitan than many of his rivals, Mr. Klaver has made an unabashed appeal to voters in larger cities and their suburbs, emphasizing the country’s international image as a place that welcomes refugees, protects the environment and has a dynamic postindustrial economy.

The son of a Moroccan father (whom Mr. Klaver says he did not know) and an Indonesian-Dutch mother, Mr. Klaver was raised as a Catholic — a minority in this largely secular nation — and started his career with the National Coalition of Christian Trade Unions.

With looks that remind many people of a younger Justin Trudeau and an American style of campaigning that included a big final rally that was styled as a “meet-up” with drinks, he is a charismatic newcomer.

“The traditional parties are not winning elections any more,” he said in an interview. “What we try to do is to build a movement that is bigger than the traditional parties. What we want to do is to fight populism.” — ALISSA J. RUBIN

Are Wilders voters staying quiet?

In Limburg, the country’s southernmost province, election officials said they had seen not seen such high turnout in recent memory. “It’s been nonstop,” one election monitor in the town of Sittard said.

This agricultural province is largely Catholic, even though church pews are mostly empty on Sundays, and former monasteries and church buildings are being used to house immigrants and refugees.

Asked if people liked Mr. Wilders, the firebrand nativist who was born in Limburg, the reaction was lukewarm.

“People don’t tell you, they don’t like the negative reactions,” said a white-haired man getting on his bike. He said he had voted for the same party for 50 years. “You can guess which one if you like,” he said, pedaling off.

Limburgers often shop or hang out in nearby Belgian or German towns, and identify more with this region than with The Hague, the “distant” center of government.

When Mr. Wilders briefly campaigned in the town of Valkenburg, “it was really abnormal, police everywhere, a helicopter flying circles over the center,” said Anna van Meersen, a shop attendant in the town. “How could a man like that govern us?”

But, she cautioned: “People who vote for Wilders may not talk about it. They don’t like the negative reactions they get.” — MARLISE SIMONS

Has the populist fever peaked?

Paul van’t Veer, 44, a D.J. and music programmer who also works in a record store, grew up attending anti-nuclear rallies in the city of Zwolle in the central-eastern Netherlands.

On Wednesday, he planned to vote for the Party for Animals. “They’re one of the only parties that really cares about how the world will be in 15 or 20 years,” he said at a cafe in Zwolle. “The environment is one of the main issues that hasn’t been talked about much before these elections. It’s a bigger fear for me than terrorism is.”

But Mr. Veer’s father has moved in a different direction. He plans to vote for Mr. Wilders’s Party for Freedom.

“I’m very sad about that,” the son said. “Nowadays I’m kind of ashamed of Holland because there seems to be far more hate and racism and intolerance than ever came to the surface before.”

Other voters in Zwolle said they hoped to stem the populist tide.

Iris Groenendyk, 27, a child protection worker, said she had voted for the centrist party Democrats 66, based on its positions on education and health care. “I’m a bit scared, because of the fact that there are a lot of people who are interested by Wilders’s rhetoric,” she said.

Theo van Uden, 66, a human resources manager at a provincial Dutch court, said he was voting for the opposition Socialist Party, because income inequality was his main concern.

“The last four years I would say that the politics have changed and it looks like populism is growing and growing, but my feeling is that we’re at the top of the hill with populism,” he said. “ I don’t think it’s going up more. I think it’s going down.” — NINA SIEGAL


King Willem-Alexander is expected to open consultations on forming a coalition government, most likely on Friday. Credit Remko De Waal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

How is a government formed?

King Willem-Alexander, as the head of state, is expected to invite the leader of the party that gets the most votes to begin consultations with other parties on forming a government, most likely on Friday. The process could take a few months, particularly if the vote is highly fragmented. Once a coalition is formed, the upper chamber of Parliament needs to sign off. Then the coalition names a cabinet, and the king swears in the ministers. In Belgium, which has a similar political system as the Netherlands, it famously took nearly a year and a half to form a government after inconclusive elections in June 2010. — MILAN SCHREUER


Women read voting information. In what the Dutch are calling the “four-eyes principle,” each vote will be counted and verified by two people at the polling station. Credit John Thys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Why the votes will be tallied by hand

After nearly three decades of using voting machines, the Dutch reverted in 2009 to paper ballots marked with red pencils. For this election, the government has tightened security further, after reports that Russian-associated hackers were trying to gain access to government computers late last year.

In what the Dutch are calling the “four-eyes principle,” each vote will be counted and verified by two people at the polling station. Tallies will then be recorded by hand and initially sent by text message to the municipality. The ballots and tally sheets will then be physically delivered to municipal voting centers so that the counts can be double-checked and verified.

The municipal centers are then responsible for reporting the results — via telephone, not email — to the ANP, the Dutch News Agency, so that initial results can be made public tonight.

However, verified results, including exactly which candidates the parties will send to Parliament, will not come until next week. — CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE


Voters in The Hague. Voting is by proportional representation, and voters choose one party’s list — there are 28 parties competing this year. Credit Peter Dejong/Associated Press

How the voting works

There are 12.9 million eligible voters, out of a population of 17 million. Women have had the vote since 1922. The minimum age is 18; about 850,000 citizens will be old enough to vote for the first time.

Voting is by proportional representation. Voters choose one party’s list — there are 28 parties competing — and candidates from the list make it into Parliament based on their party’s share of the total vote.

Most voters live in the so-called Randstad, the densely populated urban agglomeration around Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, but voting is nationwide; the seats do not represent geographic districts.

Unlike Germany, where a party needs 5 percent of the vote to enter Parliament, there is no minimum threshold in the Netherlands. A party that gets 1/150th of the votes cast is guaranteed one of the 150 seats.

In the last general election, in 2012, about three-quarters of eligible voters cast a ballot. — CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE


Geert Wilders, second from right, the leader of the Party for Freedom. Credit Remko De Waal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Wilders’s hometown, mixed feelings

In the picturesque heart of Mr. Wilders’s hometown Venlo, just across the border from northwest Germany, there did not appear to be a strong swell of support for him.

“I share some opinions with him, but he shouldn’t be so radical,” said Paula Vanhegen, 64. “Otherwise we get a second Hitler and we don’t want that.”

Many younger and middle-aged residents seemed convinced that Mr. Wilders’s party wouldn’t even make it into second place. Stan Koolen, 19, an agribusiness student, said he was convinced Mr. Rutte’s party would win.

For three working mothers sipping coffee in the old town square, TV and social media played a big part in helping them decide.

“Life in the Netherlands is good,” said one of them, Miriam Swaghoven, 43, adding that Mr. Rutte had represented the country well for eight years.

But the longer conversation went on, the more the women expressed unhappiness with what they said was pressure on Dutch people to abandon traditions like the character “Black Pete.” Muslims and others “are allowed to have their traditions, while we have to change ours,” Ms. Swaghoven said.

Rohan Nagel, 20, a photography student, expressed frustration that governments had ignored anti-European Union votes in referendums in 2005, when the Dutch rejected a proposed European constitution, and last year, when they rejected a European Union deal with Ukraine. (Mr. Nagel planned to vote for the opposition Socialist Party, he said, because they had not “sold out” to Mr. Rutte.)

Only one interviewee, Nadine Houwes, 20, a veterinary assistant, said she would not vote. All politicians “say something but are not doing it,” she shrugged. ALISON SMALE


Mr. Wilders cast his vote on Wednesday in The Hague. Credit Carl Court/Getty Images

Geert Wilders, a Party of One?

Mr. Wilders is unique in that he has taken advantage of a loophole that allows him to lead a party with seats in Parliament even though, as a technical and legal matter, his “party” is an association, and is not covered by some of the Dutch and European Union law that pertains to political parties.

For legal purposes, Mr. Wilders is the sole member of his Party for Freedom. Everyone else is part of the party’s association — the Dutch word “vereniging” — and are not required to pay dues.

There is no requirement in the Netherlands that candidates on the party lists for which citizens cast votes need to be party members. But every other party in the Dutch Parliament is organized along traditional lines, with members paying dues.

By having an association rather than a party, experts say, Mr. Wilders retains control over the party’s platforms and is able to keep much of his financing secret, because under Dutch law, the head of the party must report all income and expenditures to party members, and he is the only one. (Only larger sums — expenditures over 4,500 euros, or about $ 4,780, and debts over 25,000 euros, or about $ 26,500 — need to be disclosed to the government.)

The downside is that he is ineligible for government subsidies available to parties with more than 1,000 members. — ALISSA J. RUBIN

Source: NYT > World

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