THE HAGUE – Less than four months before the general election, a rising force in Dutch populism is in turmoil and looks to be careering toward an acrimonious breakup amid accusations of extreme right and anti-Semitic sympathies among some members of its youth wing.
After winning Dutch provincial elections early last year, the populist Forum For Democracy and its charismatic leader Thierry Baudet appeared poised to become significant forces in national and possibly European politics.
But speaking on Dutch television early Thursday, the 37-year-old Baudet said it was time for him and his supporters to part ways with the party's leadership.
The suggestion followed days of public bickering between Baudet and other prominent members of Forum For Democracy.
The damaging meltdown was sparked by allegations in a weekend newspaper report that some members of the party’s youth wing have extreme-right and anti-Semitic sympathies.
The party set up a commission to investigate the allegations, but Baudet also said members of the youth wing shouldn't be thrown “under the bus” before the commission had completed its work. At the same time, he also stressed that anybody proven to have made unacceptable comments should be tossed out of the party.
That didn't placate some members of the party leadership who wanted firmer action to root out extreme elements from the youth wing.
The right-wing, nationalist party that opposes the European Union and the euro single currency and calls for an end to what it calls mass immigration was only formed in 2016 and has grown rapidly since then, now claiming around 50,000 members. It has lawmakers in regional, national and the European Union legislatures.
Amid the internal divisions, Baudet said Monday that he wouldn't lead the party's list of candidates for the March parliamentary election. He subsequently also quit as party leader only to announce a day later that he was calling a leadership election among Forum's members and was himself a candidate.
The only other Forum lawmaker in the national parliament quit Tuesday, followed quickly by one of its senators. In a written statement, the party's three European Parliament lawmakers accused Baudet of “hijacking” the party's social media accounts to push his idea for a leadership election and said they supported the majority of the party's board that now openly opposes Baudet.
Baudet couldn't be reached for comment Thursday after he made his suggestion of a split on an early morning news show.
“To keep smearing one another like this — everybody will come out of it worse off,” he told the Good Morning Netherlands show. “I think we need to split up.”