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“Pitbull in high heels” could take over the Netherlands

“Pitbull in high heels” could take over the Netherlands

November in the Netherlands offers drizzle and gray dust. It is not enough to take away the charm of Amersfoort – which was crowned City of the Year in Europe 2023 for its quality of life.

Located four miles southeast of Amsterdam, the country’s 16th-largest urban area is a collection of brick houses, towers, beautiful walls, and quaint little shops and restaurants.

And perhaps soon also the birthplace of the next Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

– We see new energy and enthusiasm in Dylan. “We are absolutely convinced that we will succeed here,” says Martin Flekkema, local party leader of the right-wing liberal VVD party in Amersfoort.

My Kurdish father

He is talking about his party colleague Dylan Jesseljos Zegerius, the 46-year-old justice minister and the new party leader of the VVD, which has dominated Dutch politics for the past 15 years.

When the country now holds parliamentary elections on Wednesday, the VVD is one of three equally powerful parties hoping to become the largest. In this case, Yeselgoz-Sygerius could become not only the first woman to hold the position of Prime Minister, but also the first woman with a non-European background.

VVD party leader Dylan Jeselgos-Zygerius at his campaign meeting in Hilversum in early November. Stock image. Photograph: Peter DeJong/AP/TT

She was born in Ankara, Turkey, where her father, Yucel, fled as a Kurdish human rights activist in 1980. A few years later, Dylan, her mother and sister, followed her through the island of Kos in Greece and refugee camps. They came to Amersfoort where she went to school and began her political career in the left-wing party SP.

– Even though she’s only been a member for six months or so. I only know her as a liberal, and nothing else, so pardon that.

Purely political

Jesseljos-Zygerius has made a meteoric career in recent years, appearing frequently in debates and Dutch television and making a name for herself as a tough justice minister handling immigration responsibilities. When Prime Minister and party leader Mark Rutte announced this summer that he did not intend to run in this year’s elections, it took just three days for the party council to nominate a justice minister instead.

She wants a tough immigration policy, and made headlines this summer when she did not rule out post-election cooperation with far-right Geert Wilders – although she later made clear she “doesn’t like at all” his political programme.

She started her national election campaign in Amersfoort, although she did not live here long. And in the left-leaning city, it’s not an automatic vote magnet.

“I didn’t even know she was from here,” laughs Elector Sunny in the center of Amersfoort.

– It’s already too far from Amsterdam, thinks her friend Femke, who instead hopes to turn left.

Amersfoort residents Femke and Sanne don't think displaced prime ministerial candidate Dilan Jeselgos-Zygerius can count on such strong support from their hometown in this week's election.

Amersfoort residents Femke and Sanne don’t think displaced prime ministerial candidate Dilan Jeselgos-Zygerius can count on such strong support from their hometown in this week’s election. Photo: Wiktor Nomlin/TT

“It is the best”

Yeselgoz-Zygerius didn’t mind being called a “bull in heels” when she took action against the harassment of women. She also attracted significant attention when she cut off a lock of her hair live on television, in support of the struggle for women’s rights in Iran.

The fact that she is a woman of immigrant background is still something that is not highlighted much in the election campaign.

– Most people in the Netherlands do not consider her an immigrant. She’s been here a long time. It’s 100% Dutch. She does not enjoy her position because she is a woman, but rather she is there because she is the best, believes her party colleague Martin Flekema in Amersfoort.

Dylan Jesseljos-Zegerius (born 1977) is the party leader and front-runner of the right-wing Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy.

She was born in Turkey but grew up in Amersfoort, a city of about 160,000 in the province of Utrecht, four miles southeast of Amsterdam.

Yesilgöz-Zigerius started politically with the left-wing party SP, but then moved through the Social Democratic Party PVDA and the environmental party Groen Links to the VVD, which she represented first in the Amsterdam City Council from 2014 and in the National Parliament from 2014. 2017.

In January 2022, she was appointed Minister of Justice in the latest coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The Netherlands will hold elections on Wednesday, November 22, for all 150 seats in the House of Representatives. The election was called prematurely this summer, since the current coalition government was split between the right-wing liberal VVD, the left-liberal D66, the conservative CDA, and the small Christian party CU, over immigration policy.

The latest opinion polls indicated equal results for the VVD and the newly formed populist conservative party NSC, before a coalition was formed between the social democratic PVDA and the environmental party Groen Links.

It trails far-right leader Geert Wilders and his PVV, with a longer jump to D66, the CDA, the left-wing party SP, the animal rights party PVDD, and the newly formed rural populist party BBB.

Since the Netherlands does not have a minimum requirement to hold a seat in parliament, it is estimated that up to 20 parties could obtain at least one mandate.

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