THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Geert Wilders, who built his popularity on his maverick image, has been hit with a series of embarrassments from other mavericks in his own party who are accused of misconduct or violent behaviour before becoming freshman lawmakers.
The scandals swirling around Wilders’ Freedom Party highlight the fragility of the new minority coalition government, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who needs the support of each one of Wilders’ parliament seats to stay in power in the Netherlands.
In the latest incident, a member of Wilders’ Freedom Party quit parliament Thursday amid reports he had hit an athlete with a spiked running shoe years ago and that a company he was involved with was fined for misleading consumers.
James Sharpe said he was quitting to spare his family from the intense scrutiny that members of Wilders’ party are being subjected to in the media.
He will be replaced by another party member after handing back his seat to Wilders, whose popularity is based largely on his tough anti-Islam rhetoric.
Last weekend, another Freedom Party legislator, Eric Lucassen, came under fire after reporters dug up a 2002 conviction for engaging in sexual relations with a subordinate when he was in the army. He also was twice fined for public order offences and harassing his neighbours.
On Monday, Wilders refused to fire Lucassen after Lucassen refused to relinquish his seat if he were forced to leave the party.
In one of the most significant setbacks to his meteoric rise in popularity, Wilders was forced to apologize to parliament and to his voters this week for the Lucassen scandal.
Another of Wilders’ lawmakers has conceded lying on his resume about having been a primary school principal.
Wilders has run into trouble with his hand-picked parliament members because, unlike traditional Dutch parties with deep roots, the Freedom Party is new and lacks a national organization capable of screening parliamentary candidates. It is essentially a one-man show.
Rutte, who took power after national elections in June, leads a coalition of his VVD party and the Christian Democrats. However, the two parties only have 52 of parliament’s 150 seats so he needs the support of all 24 Freedom Party lawmakers to enact legislation.
Dutch lawmakers can remain in parliament even if they are kicked out of their party. If Wilders had ejected Sharpe from his party the lawmaker could remain as an independent and Rutte would no longer be guaranteed a majority in key votes.
In a text message to The Associated Press, Wilders said of Sharpe: “I respect his decision to leave parliament.”
Wilders broke with Rutte’s VVD party in 2004 over its support for Turkey‘s membership in the European Union. In his first election, Wilders won 9 seats, and nearly tripled that in this year’s vote, thanks almost exclusively to Wilders’ tough anti-Islam rhetoric that tapped into a groundswell of resentment among many Dutch at the country’s growing Muslim minority.
Wilders’ popularity kept growing even after he was put on trial for hate speech for his anti-Islam comments. The trial was aborted last month after Wilders’ lawyer accused judges of bias and will restart next year. Lawmaker with Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party quits parliament amid reports of wrongdoing By: Mike Corder, The Associated Press. Posted: 18/11/2010 4:02 AM
- Wild Hooligans of Wilder’s Dutch Freedom party (rupeenews.com)