Populist political parties to look out for in 2017

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Europe's mainstream political parties breathed a huge sigh of relief as a far-right nationalist just lost out in a vote to become Austria's president in December yet the continent has many more testing times ahead with several crucial elections scheduled for 2017. Here are the ones to look out for:


Netherlands – Party for Freedom

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Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), is currently leading in the polls and has been for several months according to various media outlets, but faces a monumental battle in securing victory at the Dutch general election on March 15.

Wilders' chances of an outright victory next spring are projected to be remarkably low, according to political analysts. A highly fragmented political system means the PVV winning a parliamentary majority looks very unlikely and overwhelmingly negative sentiment from opposing parties seems to have effectively ruled out a coalition.

"If, and the probability is extremely low, Wilders is able to win then he has proposed a referendum on European Union (EU) membership," Larissa Brunner, analyst for Western Europe at think-tank Oxford Analytica, told CNBC in a phone interview.

"After Brexit, polls across Europe indicate that European countries' support for the EU has actually increased… It is somewhat of a cautionary tale for other nations because it is not so straight forward to leave the EU."

Wilders leadership bid was complicated further in December as he was convicted of discrimination against Moroccans at a political rally in 2015 and though he did not receive any punishment, the verdict could have serious political ramifications with the election just three months away.

The PVV leader described the guilty verdict as "madness" on social media and claimed he would appeal and continue to speak his mind regardless.

Germany – Alternative for Germany

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The Alternative for Germany party (AfD), led by Frauke Petry, has every chance of becoming the first far-right party to enter Germany's parliament since 1945 though a lack of viable alternatives to Angela Merkel and a fragmented political system puts the current chancellor in pole position to secure a fourth consecutive term.

Merkel is the longest-serving leader of a global power, with the exception of Russia's Vladimir Putin, though her Christian Democrat party (CDU) faces mounting pressure from AfD.

"There is no way AfD can win. Just, no way they can get over 50 percent of the votes needed. So it's about how you can define success for them, if they achieve 20 or 25 percent of the votes then that could result in a policy shift towards the right but no-one will go in with them to form a coalition," said Brunner.

AfD supporters are passionately against Merkel's controversial open-door refugee policy which has divided voters in Germany and dented CDU's poll ratings.

Even if AfD are unable to win the election outright or find a coalition partner to form a majority, the populist party appears to have a strong chance of entering government and subsequently impacting parliamentary procedures moving forwards.

Merkel has described this election campaign as the most difficult since the reunification of Germany 26 years ago.

The general election is due to take place between August 27 and November 27 in 2017.

France - National Front

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The French presidential election in May 2017 is set to be another test for traditional elites versus anti-establishment voters with far-right leader of the National Front (NF), Marine le Pen hoping to capitalize.

Recent polls suggest Francois Fillon, former prime minister and leader of center-right Les Republicains party, would comfortably defeat le Pen, however, the dramatic upswing in support for France's NF cannot be denied.

"It was just a few years ago that the National Front were getting 18 percent (of the vote) and people were worried then… and now we are talking about them maybe getting enough to be the first or second party," Daphne Halikiopoulou, associate professor in comparative politics at the University of Reading, told CNBC in a phone interview.

"I suppose what makes them different from other far-right parties (in Europe) are the fact that France has been particularly vulnerable to terrorist acts in recent times. The National Front has been extremely active in trying to show people a link between terrorism and immigration," she added.

The anti-immigration and anti-Europe NF party describes itself as the protector of the working classes though at present, le Pen must attract much more support to mount a serious challenge for the leadership, if polls are to be believed.

Italy – Five Star Movement

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Italy's Five Star Movement (5SM) party celebrated what they perceived as a comprehensive victory after citizens voted overwhelmingly to reject constitutional reforms proposed by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

The "No" vote, as championed by 5SM throughout the campaign, won 57.1 percent of the vote according to the final count and ultimately resulted in Renzi handing in his resignation.

"5SM are part of the populist wave which is increasing the consensus in Europe so this could be another signal to the EU, it should be considered seriously," Carlo Alberto De Casa, chief market analyst at Activtrades, told CNBC in an email.

5SM lost out to Renzi in 2014 only to come back stronger during local polls in summer 2015 and even won mayoralties in Rome and Torino.

"So far they (5SM) have been able to get leverage to the growing unhappiness of the people against the EU, but where they had the task of managing the government of big cities (as in Roma and Torino) their performance was not brilliant, and this could lead people to vote for other parties in a general election," De Casa concluded.

Though it is unclear if elections may take place in Italy next year, a minister in Matteo Renzi's outgoing government projected voters could be heading to the polls as soon as February.

Critics argue that 5SM's supporters and activists do not necessarily have a position on migration, taxation or even the EU and represent little more than a protest vote. Yet the insurgent populist party has enjoyed an incredible rise in support since being founded seven years ago and will be looking to seize on renewed electoral momentum following the referendum result.