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Dutch 'JFK' aims to thwart far-right's election hopes

Some refer to him as the Justin Trudeau of Dutch politics, to others there are echoes of a young John F Kennedy.

[THE HAGUE] Some refer to him as the Justin Trudeau of Dutch politics, to others there are echoes of a young John F Kennedy.

But Green party leader Jesse Klaver is on a mission to put his own stamp on the Dutch political landscape as an antidote to rising right-wing xenophobia ahead of next year's elections.

As the only child of an absentee father of Moroccan descent and a Dutch-Indonesian mother, Mr Klaver, 30, knows what it's like to grow up in The Netherlands as an outsider.

The Dutch parliament's youngest ever party leader, Mr Klaver was raised mainly by his grandparents in social housing, in a sprawling flatlands suburb of the southern city of Roosendaal.

Unlike "what certain politicians will lead you to believe, The Netherlands is an immigrant country," Mr Klaver told AFP referring to his political arch-foe, Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders.

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"I am a product of that immigration," added the curly-haired, olive-skinned Klaver, who took over the party helm last year.

His campaign for the March 2017 polls will focus on stopping what Mr Klaver calls "the right-wing wind that's blowing through all of Europe".

Immigration is just one of the many topics on which he and Wilders - his adversary with the blonde-bouffant hair - frequently cross swords in the parliament's lower house in The Hague.

Next week, Mr Wilders goes on trial on charges of hate speech and discrimination for having said at a campaign rally a few years ago that he wants "fewer Moroccans" in the country.

So it's no surprise perhaps that Mr Klaver says: "I am completely, and on all aspects, in disagreement with Geert Wilders".

Mr Klaver first rose to prominence in 2009 when he was elected at only 23 to become the youngest-ever member of the influential Social and Economical Council of The Netherlands, which advises government and parliament on key policy.

Six years later, he was elected unopposed as the leader of GroenLinks (the Green-Left party), which has been haemorrhaging voters since a disastrous 2012 campaign in the previous elections.

From garnering only four seats in that vote, the latest opinion polls from the Dutch Peilingwijzer website show the party could now capture between 11 and 15 seats.

"The 'new kid on the block' has given the party new energy," the NRC Handelsblad daily wrote recently.

With Wilders's Freedom Party (PVV) and the Liberals (VVD) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte running neck-and-neck in the polls at around 25-29 seats, the young Klaver could well emerge in a "kingmaker" role in next year's elections.

He has already called for closer cooperation between Dutch leftwing parties like Labour, the progressive D66 and the Socialist Party, seeking to form a powerful bloc against any potential government led by Mr Rutte's Liberals, who will need a majority coalition to reign in the 150-seat house.

"I want my country back," says Mr Klaver.

Often compared to Canada's liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to whom Mr Klaver bears a striking resemblance, the young Dutch politician himself names John F Kennedy as his biggest inspiration.

Even his full name, "Jesse Feras Klaver" echoes the initials of the famous US president, who was shot dead in Dallas in 1963.

Kennedy "was a man who said you should stand by your norms and principles," said Mr Klaver, who has several pictures of a youthful Kennedy on his walls alongside those of his own wife and two young sons.

He subscribes to many of the ideas of celebrated French economist Thomas Piketty - the author of an unlikely bestseller on capitalism - including that globalisation has created an unequal society and an unequal concentration of wealth. And he was behind an invitation to Piketty to address the Dutch parliament in 2014.

"We need to make Europe work for everybody, not just for a small group of rich people who have been lucky and are just getting richer," Mr Klaver said.

And he is reminded every morning of his mission as he clasps his coffee mug, engraved with JFK's words: "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try".


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