Youthful leader seizes the day for Dutch Green party

Mr Klaver took charge of the Dutch Green-Left Party in 2015, five years after entering national politics. He has gained a mass following, and taken advantage of social media to reach millions more.
Mr Klaver took charge of the Dutch Green-Left Party in 2015, five years after entering national politics. He has gained a mass following, and taken advantage of social media to reach millions more.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Amid rise of populism, many other voters in the Netherlands opted for liberal alternative

AMSTERDAM • The Dutch Justin Trudeau. The Dutch Barack Obama. A perceived resemblance to heroes of the global liberal left lifted the ambitious and charismatic leader of the Dutch Green-Left Party to new prominence in Wednesday's election, the first in a series of decisive European contests this year.

As a populist, anti-immigrant message gained favour among many voters, others were searching for an alternative. They found one in the 30-year-old Jesse Klaver, son of a Moroccan father and a mother of Indonesian descent.

Mr Klaver asked voters to embrace immigrants and refugees, and to look towards European institutions as a solution to the continent's ills. Those who were willing to do so, mainly in the Netherlands' bigger cities and immigrant communities, rewarded him with about 10 per cent of the vote, election returns show.

A sizeable share of that came from the capital, Amsterdam, where Green-Left was the favoured party. The fifth-place finish overall will increase the Greens' clout in Parliament, where they are expected to go from having four seats to 14.

The ruling People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) will remain the largest party, but will need the cooperation of other groups to form a government, which requires a simple majority of 76 seats.

Mr Klaver's success was a bright spot for progressives in an election that otherwise ratified a conservative platform, most notably dealing a decimating blow to the Labour Party. Currently the second-largest party and a governing partner of the VVD's Mark Rutte, Labour will see its power contract.

"Klaver did really well among a minority group - a group of progressive young people who are optimistic about the future," said political scientist Wouter van der Brug at the University of Amsterdam. "But the majority is conservative, and the big story here is a shift to the right."

He predicted the Greens would not enter government in partnership with the VVD, saying disagreements over the environment and egalitarian social policy were too severe. He suggested that Prime Minister Rutte might look instead to the Christian Democrats and the left-leaning Democrats 66.

Former Greens leader Bram van Ojik celebrated as he made his way to The Hague, where party leaders were beginning coalition talks. "We are the big winner of the election," he said. "There's no other party that gained so many seats as we did, so we will certainly be ready to engage in dialogue with the others."

Meanwhile, some of Mr Klaver's supporters said they did not want to see him compromise his ideals for the sake of a coalition. They fear the same fate as Labour, a longstanding social democratic party punished for countenancing a conservative governing mandate.

The Green-Left Party emerged three decades ago in an affiliation of communists, pacifists, radicals and evangelicals. Mr Klaver took charge in 2015, just five years after entering national politics.

He has cultivated a mass following. An Amsterdam rally drew 5,000 people, an irregularity in an otherwise restrained political landscape. He also took advantage of social media to reach millions more. He also spoke out on contentious questions of international politics. He used a pejorative Dutch term, best translated as "buffoon" or "git", to describe US President Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Youthful leader seizes the day for Dutch Green party'. Print Edition | Subscribe