The comparisons to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau keep pouring in, but up-and-coming Dutch politician Jesse Klaver cites weathered US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as more of an inspiration.
One week ahead of a national election in the Netherlands, Klaver is combining youthful enthusiasm with a left-wing platform to offer an alternative for Dutch voters who might be weary of centrist politics or recoiling from far-right populism.
And judging by the polls, it is paying off for the 30-year-old leader of the Green Left party, who hopes to become the country’s prime minister but is unlikely to get enough support for that to happen this time around.
Klaver, like other mainstream political leaders, rejects the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant policies of right-wing populist Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, which has seen previously strong polls numbers erode as next Wednesday’s election draws closer.
Klaver’s support for an inclusive society is not surprising; his father is Moroccan, but he was raised by his mother, who is of Indonesian descent. He is more pro-migrant than many other parties, which have been pushed to the right by Wilders’ policies.
“When I look to the international media, they are paying a lot of attention to Geert Wilders and that’s not the Netherlands, it’s just a part of the Netherlands,” Klaver said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And you see that our party, we are gaining momentum and we are just the opposite of what is happening with Geert Wilders.”
Polls have the Greens in line to win around 17 seats, the most since the party first entered Parliament in 1989 and surpassing the record 12 seats it won in 1998. Klaver is currently one of four Greens lawmakers in the 150-seat lower house.
It seems a long way from the time a veteran journalist dismissively called him a “snotty kid” on national television two years ago. The slur turned Klaver into a household name, and soon he was his party’s leader.
The insult, which made headlines around the country, was delivered in a TV show reporting on parliamentary hearings during which Klaver sharply questioned a Dutch banker about bonuses in the financial world.
“It was not only a clash of generations,” Klaver recalled. “It was a clash of cultures.”
While most Dutch politicians on the campaign trail hand out party flyers and talk to voters in shopping areas, Klaver has been holding “meetups,” bounding into rooms with his sleeves rolled up, a necktie nowhere to be seen.
“My faith in change is you,” he told his audience recently at one of the meetings. “You are my hope for change. And on March 15, we are all going to make history.”
True to his Green mindset and his country’s history, a key plank in Klaver’s platform is building more windmills — specifically giant wind turbines in the North Sea — and closing all coal-fired power stations.
He also is a strong supporter of the European Union, ensuring multinationals don’t avoid taxes and more sustainable agriculture practices in a country where intensive farming is still the norm.
“What we need is the most ambitious climate program ever,” he said. “Climate change is happening right now and we have to stop it.”
The message resonates in this low-lying country, parts of which hunker below sea level behind giant dikes.
Klaver brushed off comparisons with Canada’s heartthrob prime minister, saying only that he wishes he were as buff as the 45-year-old Trudeau.
“I’m very jealous of Trudeau’s muscles, because I’m not as muscled as he is,” Klaver said with a smile.
It remains to be seen if he has the electoral strength of his Canadian colleague.