“I was at a birthday party last week,” says Sharda Ramdihal, who moved to the Netherlands from Suriname almost 40 years ago. “Of the 50 people there, every single one of them said they are voting for Geert Wilders.”
Ramdihal works behind the bar in the Transvaal neighbourhood of the Hague, the Dutch political capital. It’s a mixed neighbourhood filled with Surinamese restaurants, Turkish barbers and Moroccan coffeehouses. Almost 90 per cent of the inhabitants have an immigrant background.
Her bar’s clientele are young men from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, playing cards or watching football on a big screen. Although her patrons don’t think very highly of the PVV, she likes Mr Wilders. “So many immigrants don’t speak the language,” she says. “I came here when I was 13 and I adapted, I integrated. Others should do the same.” Ramdihal is Indo-Surinamese, an ethnically Indian group from Suriname. There are roughly 350,000 Surinamese in the Netherlands, most of whom moved after the former Dutch colony won independence in 1975.
Research conducted by the Etnobarometer found that among Surinamese people, Mr Wilders’ Freedom party was second, behind the Labour party.
Shashi Rampoor is an anthropologist who has been studying the PVV’s popularity with immigrants for the past four years. “I think it has a lot to do with the group identity, and how people perceive themselves,” he says. Especially among the Indo-Surinamese there is a feeling that other groups are benefitting from social policy, while they succeeded on their own. “They think ‘we had the same chances as everyone, we grabbed every opportunity, and we are able to make it’. But the people that get most of the attention, these are people who cause problems. So we are being punished for being successful,” he says.
Jaghmohan Singh Bindra is also a fan of Mr Wilders. The entrepreneur, who moved to The Netherlands from India in 1979, has kind eyes and a black beard speckled with grey. On his head he wears a black, Sikh turban. Hard work allowed him to develop a successful business, he owns an off licence and rents out eight properties.
Despite living here for almost 40 years, Mr Bindra’s Dutch is basic. But he feels Wilders’ rhetoric about immigrants and integration is not aimed at him. “I am also a foreigner but I pay my taxes. We run a business… Most of the Turks I know run businesses. I don’t think Wilders means that all foreigners should leave. Just the bad ones,” he says. For him, the appeal of the PVV lies mainly in Wilders’ promise that dual national criminals should be sent home.
But despite the support, one potential pitfall for Wilders may be that immigrant communities are statistically less likely to cast votes. Mr Bindra has never voted in the past 40 years. “You get busy, you forget,” he says dismissively. But this year, he intends to actually cast a ballot.
Parties are waking up to the potential of the immigrant vote. Voters from the four largest immigrant groups – Surinamese, Antillean, Moroccan and Turkish – are expected to swing seven seats in the 150-seat parliament, according to Etnobarometer.
That is a significant number in an elections where the largest party, Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD, is currently expected to win 26 and Geert Wilders’ PVV is slated to win 23. DENK, a party started by two former Labour MPs of Turkish origin, is set to win 40 per cent of the Turkish vote. Mr Wilders is also actively courting immigrants ahead of the election. ‘Happy Diwali to all Hindus all over the world,” he tweeted to the national Hindu festival in October last year. “He was the only Dutch politician to do so,” Mr Rampoor says. “He knows he needs to appeal to a larger electorate and the migrant vote if he wants to really be the biggest.”