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Party time?

The Netherlands — Leadership

The rap about life as a refugee gets people clapping and the comedian has everyone laughing but the 1,200-strong audience is impatient. It’s Friday evening and they’ve braved a snowstorm to get to the Concert Hall in Nijmegen, eastern Netherlands. They’re ready for the main event.

Suddenly the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” blasts from the PA and the man himself appears. Wearing a white shirt and blue suit trousers he seems utterly relaxed, shaking hands as he walks through the middle of the frenzied crowd and onto the stage.

This is Jesse Klaver, not a popstar but the leader of the GroenLinks (GreenLeft) party. Derisively referred to by some as the “glamour boy” of the Netherlands’ usually staid political scene, he is just 30, making him the youngest party leader competing in the 15 March national elections.

He might also be the most ambitious. Although his green party currently has just four of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, over the next few months he wants to forge the “biggest movement in political history in the Netherlands” with other left-leaning parties, he tells us.

He also wants to become prime minister, though many feel he is too green – in every sense of the word. “Why wait?” he asks the ecstatic audience after announcing his intentions. Some 400,000 children in the country are in poverty, he says, outlining his priorities. Thousands of refugees are stuck in Greece in appalling conditions, he continues, climate change is accelerating and the government has run the country as if it was a company for too long. “We cannot wait,” he concludes to thunderous applause.

He may have to. Like so much of the western world, right-wing often xenophobic populism is on the rise in the Netherlands, with Geert Wilders and his pvv party leading in the polls.

“Wilders is crazy,” says Klaver, shaking his head. “He is totally crazy. He’s telling people, ‘I have all the solutions, let’s build a big fence around the Netherlands.’ But it’s not solving any of the problems.”

Klaver argues that the housing, healthcare and employment issues some face are due to the traditional parties’ incompetence and not the presence of newcomers. In fact he is openly pro- refugees, a big ask at a difficult time. But then Klaver is used to uphill struggles.

Born Jesse (pronounced Yessa) Feras Klaver to a Moroccan father and a Dutch-Indonesian mother, he grew up in social housing in a poor part of the drug-ridden town of southerly Roosendaal, an experience that the media has compared to Obama’s upbringing in South Side, Chicago. By the age of 24 he was in GroenLinks and entering parliament. Fast-forward six years and here he is, potentially on the cusp of something big – if, that is, he can convince his compatriots of his vision.

“I think this is still a tolerant country but the upcoming election is very, very important,” he says, his expression steely. “We’re at a turning point.”

Succession watch

Three ageing monarchs – and three potential power grabs across the Gulf. These are the successions to watch in 2017.

  1. Saudi Arabia
    Mohammed bin Salman, 31

    If Saudi Arabia’s defence minister sidesteps his father to the throne he’ll become the country’s youngest-ever king. He’s pushed through austerity measures and is leading a war in Yemen.
  2. Oman

    Sultan Qaboos has no children; the lack of a successor provokes concern in Muscat. Two sealed envelopes, to be opened in case of a crisis, reveal his choices; watch out for Shihab bin Tariq Al Said.
  3. United Arab Emirates
    Mohammed bin Zayed, 55

    With president Sheikh Khalifa out of the public eye since a stroke in 2014, the crown prince has charted a new stance in the region that’s a reflection of a perceived wane in US influence.

Agents of fortune

Australia — Corruption

Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has overhauled the way that politicians report expenses. But not everyone is convinced that such measures are enough. George Williams, the dean of law at the University of New South Wales, thinks it’s time for a new federal agency to combat corruption. “As scandal after scandal emerges, the case for such a body has become overwhelming.”

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