On Wednesday 15th March the Dutch electorate went to the polls in what was seen as a head-to-head challenge of incumbent Mark Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) by Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV).
Dutch seats are awarded on a proportional basis, and with the results almost all in this is the apparent state of play:
Rutte’s VVD will remain the largest party with 33 seats, down 8 whilst his former coalition junior the PvdA (Labour) dropped 29 seats to just 9. Wilder’s PVV has increased 5 by 5 seats to 20 and since they will likely be excluded from all coalition talks will be the main opposition. The Christian Democrats (CDA) and Liberal Progressives (D66) both have 19 seats, up 6 and 7 respectively and the Green Party (GL), under the charismatic leadership of Jesse Klaver, are up 10 to 14 seats; tied with the Socialists (SP) who lost 1. ‘Others’ make up the remaining 22.
Now some may read the results, looks at the title, and so “Well Rutte won then”… but did he?
It’s true that Rutte leads the largest party, and is extremely likely to continue as the Dutch Prime Minister once the coalition negotiations have ended, and that’s ultimately the position everybody wants, but his stability has been deal a sledgehammer blow by the Dutch electorate. Whilst his former coalition partners were dealt a Lib Dem style wipe-out he suffered the loss of 8 of his party from office which is hardly a vote of confidence from the electorate… I mean even David Cameron managed to make gains at his junior’s expense.
To make it even worse, coalition talks are likely to be even more turbulent than before. Even if the three largest parties bar the PVV were to form an agreement, they would fall 4 short of the 76 seats they require for a majority. Rutte’s only option is a rainbow coalition of at least 4 parties with significant compromises having to be made… doesn’t sound so much like a win anymore and with the PVV as the largest non-governmental party, Rutte’s situation is precarious.
To make it worse, his excellent electioneering action of “getting tough on Turkey” has soured his relations with them, and his news wasn’t welcomed by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu, who went as far as to say Rutte was exactly like Wilders… which I don’t think is a compliment on his hair.
There is perhaps a stronger argument that Wilders’ came out of the election as the real winner, even though he didn’t technically win. Whilst he won’t be the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, a position that he was never likely to gain under a coalition, he increased the PVV’s number of seats by 5 to 20, and they will now be the main opposition to a Rutte led-coalition, putting them in a strong position for their next EU elections, where the PVV have 4 MEPs.
Similarly, it is clear from his increase in votes and seats that right-wing populism is far from finished in The Netherlands and there is an evident increase in Eurosceptic feeling; the celebrations at Rutte’s victory from the likes of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron will be fuel to the fire as Wilders “refuses to go away” from Dutch politics and continues his Eurosceptic fight. He also managed to clarify that the party is not anti-semitic or anti-homosexual, and his success will likely give Le Pen strength in her upcoming electoral battle to take power in France and remove it from the clutches of the EU.
Perhaps Wilders’ biggest personal success however came before the election even began; as under pressure from struggling polling numbers, Rutte was forced to get tough on Turkey and prevent their foreign minister from landing in The Netherlands and prevent the country’s family and social policies minister from accessing Rotterdam’s Turkish Consulate. In forcing this action, Wilders got part of his wish for The Netherlands to be tougher on Turkey, and forced the hand of Rutte, making him look scared and vulnerable before the vast majority of the votes had been cast.
In political antithesis, the left also had an excellent election… ignoring the collapse the Dutch Labour Party. The Green Party increased their seats by 10, which in a country with large concerns about global warming and is one of the fastest movers away from non-renewable energy is not especially surprising, but is still a monumental success for the party. Some of the reasoning behind their success may be awarded to their charismatic “Trudeau like” leader Jesse Klaver, who seems to subscribe to Milo Yiannopoulos’ “post-fact universe” in which “just telling the facts isn’t enough you now have to be persuasive and charismatic and interesting and funny”. That type of universe can surely only make politics more interesting.
On similar left-wing lines, the Liberal Progressive D66 and Christian Democrats were able to make strong and respectable gains, highlighting the polarity of contemporary Western politics.
To sum up on the election, whilst the winner of the election in seats was Rutte, the “Winner” in the new political reality is actually unclear; Looking at the political events of 2016, and the upcoming ones for 2017… unclear could become a permanent reality.
By Matthew J Eyre