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Baudet faces task of rebuilding Dutch far-right party after reelection

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Thierry Baudet is again the face of the Dutch far-right party Forum for Democracy (FvD) — at least what’s left of it. 

On Friday, Baudet was reelected as the leader of the anti-EU party following a power struggle that saw many prominent members jumping ship, including its three lawmakers in the European Parliament.

With his party in tatters, the former populist prodigy is now facing the immense task of recruiting new people, starting with candidates for the Dutch general election in March.

“We will leave this period behind as soon as possible,” Baudet vowed after his reelection, adding that he would continue to fight to “save the country” and “protect our civilization.” 

The party’s implosion came as its standing in the polls took a sharp dive, with many voters turned off by Baudet’s support for anti-lockdown activists and groups spreading coronavirus conspiracy theories.

A recent poll projected that the FvD — which currently holds two seats in parliament — would win around four seats if an election were to be held now, compared to 15 in February and 24 at the height of its popularity 18 months ago, when it took the largest vote share in provincial elections.

That victory stunned the Dutch political establishment. The upstart party, founded in 2016, also secured 12 of 75 seats in the country’s upper parliamentary house last year, putting it in joint first place — but after the recent wave of resignations, only four of them are left.

A number of controversies in recent years have fractured the FvD, including accusations of racism against its members and allegations of close ties with Russia, both denied by Baudet. The party also split in two after a disagreement over the misuse of funding between Baudet and one of the co-founders last year.

Baudet’s fortune seemed to finally run dry last month when Dutch newspaper Het Parool published evidence of the FvD’s youth branch, run by his close ally Freek Jansen, posting anti-Semitic and racist chat messages. 

Instead of firing Jansen, as senior party members had demanded, Baudet announced on November 23 he was stepping down as leader but later said he would still stand in the leadership contest. 

That sparked a mass exodus and public snipping between the different factions. Baudet was no longer able to enter the party’s headquarters after the board changed the locks, and an ex-girlfriend and candidate for the general election told Baudet live on television that she was no longer backing him. 

It also kindled new allegations of racism within the party. One senator claimed that Baudet told a dinner party of prospective MPs that the Hungarian-born philanthropist and billionaire George Soros — often a target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories — was responsible for COVID-19 and wanted to “take away our freedoms.”

The senator also recounted how Baudet responded to concerns about anti-Semitism in the party by saying that “almost everyone I know is anti-Semitic.” Baudet didn’t deny making these statements but refused to explain what he had meant.

Baudet’s reelection on Friday — by two-thirds of party members — prompted a slew of new resignations, including those of the three FvD MEPs. All three declined to respond to questions from POLITICO.

MEP Derk Jan Eppink said in a statement that he and his colleagues “will continue to stand up for the Dutch interest in Brussels,” adding that under center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte, “the Netherlands has become an ATM for the European Union.” The three MEPs will stay in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, the FvD’s political family, in the European Parliament. 

The trouble within the FvD comes as a welcome relief for Rutte and Geert Wilders, the head of the Netherlands’ other far-right populist party. As the FvD struggles, its voters are flocking to their parties.

That means that the upcoming election will likely turn into a contest between the two political veterans.

According to the latest polls, Rutte’s liberal party is set to remain the largest party with 36 seats — three more seats than it won in the 2017 election. Wilders’ Freedom Party is projected to win 27 seats, up from 20 in 2017.

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