Dutch far right 'exploiting' anger over COVID lockdown for votes

Wednesday's vote will be the first major electoral test in Europe since the start of the pandemic, as right-wing politicians are being accused of exploiting people's anger over coronavirus restrictions to gain votes.

Video Transcript

STEP VAESSEN: His style has been compared with former US President Donald Trump. Ignoring COVID restrictions, the leader of the anti-immigration Populist Party, Theirry Baudet, is trying to attract voters by calling COVID-19 a common flu and blaming international conspiracies for being behind the pandemic.

Hundreds of people at the moment are in the hospital, right, suffering from corona. Many people in the Netherlands have died, more than 15,000. So it's a serious issue here.

THIERRY BAUDET: That's a normal number for a serious flu. We've had that for thousands of years every year.

STEP VAESSEN: Doctors have complained the hospitals are full. They can't cope with the workflow.

THIERRY BAUDET: Yeah, well, those stories are highly disputed.

STEP VAESSEN: Baudet's party became the largest just two years ago but fell apart after racist and anti-Semitic messages were made public. Now he's tapping into a growing sentiment against the lockdown with an American-style campaign based on conspiracy theories and attacks on the media.

Sentiment in the Netherlands against lockdowns has grown, especially after a nighttime curfew was introduced in January. Riots broke out in several cities. And COVID testing facilities were attacked. Far-right parties like Forum for Democracy appear to be benefiting from this anger.

- I can't go anywhere I want to. And even if I didn't go out, I should have freedom. That has been taken away from us. And that is horrible.

- I like what he says about freedom. I want schools to reopen. I'm a first-year student. And I can barely follow my studies because it's all online.

STEP VAESSEN: While Baudet's party is polling around 3% of the vote, another anti-immigration party, the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, us is predicted to win around 20% and become the second largest, like it did four years ago.

For the first time, it's not about immigration or Islam. It's about corona.

GEERT WILDERS: Yeah, it is. And we take a responsible view there as well. So people, because we are really involved in the public health as well and making that a big issue--

STEP VAESSEN: Is that a problem for you that it's not about immigration this time?

GEERT WILDERS: Well, if you look at the polls, it's not. I think with our responsible view that we will benefit from it. But it's like you want to benefit from a pandemic. I'm just doing my job.

STEP VAESSEN: His chances to become part of the government are slim, since nobody wants to govern with him because of his views on immigration and Islam. Koen Vossen, writer of a book about Wilders says that even though around 1/5 of the Dutch electorate votes for far-right parties, their influence remains limited.

KOEN VOSSEN: In the Netherlands, they're sometimes called as the middle finger vote, so people who stick their middle finger to the political establishment. And they want to shock the establishment. And how can you shock the establishment? By choosing somebody who is always shocking the politicians in the debates. And that is what Wilders does.

STEP VAESSEN: The main question is how successful a campaign solely based on COVID restrictions will be. While many in the Netherlands are fed up, there's also a large group who do take the fight against the virus seriously.

Well, large banners here for Forum for Democracy as well at this rally. And as you can probably see, there's no social distancing here at all. And also nobody's wearing any mask. It's going to be a question what police will do. There's a large police force out here.

And also three days before the elections, the infections are up again. The largest group of infections, number of infections since January were counted yesterday. So there's also some concern, although they have taken a lot of measures to make these elections as safe as possible, about what the risk will be on Wednesday when the elections will take place.

- OK, Step Vaessen, rather, live from The Hague. Step, thank you very much indeed.