Where Wilders’s PVV has been a glowing example of disciplined behaviour until now, with no other PVV politician even hinting at criticism of party leader Wilders, during an interview last Sunday the second-best-known PVV MP, Hero Brinkman, called for more internal party democracy.
Brinkman has a point. Despite losing seats in the polls, the PVV is still doing well (I expect it to win about three to six seats on top of their current nine), and the party is clearly aiming to become the permanent inhabitor of the right-of-VVD slot in the Dutch political ecosystem. With such a permanent position comes responsibility. Suppose Wilders were to resign, or something happens to him, what is to become of the party? Besides, all other Dutch parties have internal democracy, with the PVV as the sole exception.
Currently the PVV has only two members: Geert Wilders and the Geert Wilders Foundation. No one else has any formal say in the election of the party leader, the creation of party list and programme, and possible coalition negotiations. Brinkman evidently wants to change all that by properly accepting members who get a vote at an annual party congress or something.
Wilders reacted mildly; he said that Brinkman’s ideas were interesting, and that he had been thinking about the same himself, but in the end he didn’t think the time had quite come yet for a more open party structure.
Wilders has a point, too. Until the ascent of the PVV the extreme right wing was characterized by endless arguments between senior politicians, and parties split off at an almost weekly basis just before the 2003 elections. In 2002 the LPF entered the coalition, but was kicked out again when it proved to be impossible to maintain internal party discipline, with senior LPF ministers Bomhoff and Heinsbroek openly arguing with each other. That set the tone: the LPF never quite recovered from this episode, and other parties on the extreme right were mainly meant as vehicles for politicians who had split off from the LPF trunk and hoped to gain seats on their own.
When Wilders founded the PVV he was adamantly opposed to creating such a spectacle, and his solution was to concentrate all formal power within the party with himself. In addition, he was quite picky about the elections he would participate in, because every election requires a separate candidate list, and the more candidates you have, the more likely internal arguments become. Therefore the PVV did not participate in the 2007 provincial elections and entered only two local elections in March: Almere and Den Haag.
Thus, Wilders’s dictatorial system has netted the PVV quite a bit of calm; and such calm is so unusual on the extreme right that it might be an important factor in the PVV’s success. Say what you want about Wilders, but organisationally he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Still, in the long term Brinkman’s arguments make sense. If the PVV becomes a normal party Wilders will eventually resign as leader, and a new one will have to be elected.
In any case, right now it almost seems as if two senior PVV politicians are having a polite argument about an important issue that allows for pro and con viewpoints. That’s something new on the extreme right, too. It has been treated as an “oh right, the PVV starts internal rows, too“ episode, but that might be a bit unfair. Good points are being made by both, after all.
What we don’t know, of course, is how Wilders really thinks about Brinkman’s action. Brinkman has been a problematic member before, having an alcohol problem and once hitting a barkeeper in the parliamentary pub. Besides, it’s clear Brinkman is every bit as egomaniacal as Wilders when it comes to profiling himself in the media. There might be undercurrents that we simply don’t know about because they have been succesfully kept under wraps. Besides, if Wilders were to react openly by throwing Brinkman out of the parliamentary fraction or denying him a place on the party list, this whole episode would seriously backfire. Thus Wilders will react mildly anyway, regardless of his true feelings.
Nonetheless, this discussion actually makes sense, and both participants have offered arguments that can be discussed on their merits. In itself, that’s something that need not necessarily hurt the PVV’s chances in the elections.
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This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.