This past Wednesday, the Netherlands held parliamentary elections to decide the fate of their legislature and future leadership. Holland has a parliamentary system and prime ministers have to form coalitions to govern. The eyes of Europe particularly and the world in general were on this election for one reason only: how the party of Geert Wilders would do. He is considered by many the Donald Trump of Dutch politics whose party ran on an anti-immigrant platform. His party was expected to make great gains forcing the ruling party of Mark Rutte to take notice and include some of Wilders’ party in a new government. The following are some thoughts on that election.
The Big Losers Were the Center-Left
The first thing to understand is that even though Rutte’s party will have 33 seats in parliament, that is a net loss of 8 seats. Previous to this election, Rutte’s VVD Party held 41 seats and another center-left party- the Labor Party- held 38 seats. Together, they were a majority in parliament and they formed a formidable and viable governing coalition. What is probably the most amazing fact coming from this election is that the Labor Party lost a whopping 29 seats. Between the gains on the Left and the gains on the Right, the center is the loser as Dutch politics becomes increasingly polarized.
Wilders is Not Going Away
Many European publications are claiming that Wilders got trounced or that extreme Right wing populism was delivered a mortal blow in Europe. Not so fast! While it is true that his PVV party did not make the gains expected, especially in light of some polls before the actual election, it still gained five seats in Parliament and is second only to Rutte’s party. Because expectations were so high and because the PVV failed to reach those expectations, many are considering this a loss for his party and policies.
Wilders has been around Dutch politics for a while now and he is likely to be around for some time to come. As he noted in the aftermath of the elections, the PVV was the third biggest party pre-election; they are now the second largest post-election. He promised that the next time they would be first. Still, given the international rise of nationalist populism, 2017 may have been the best chance for Wilders to make a statement.
The Far Left’s Gains Threaten Rutte
The Green Party of the charismatic Jesse Klaver was a surprise “winner” gaining ten seats to bring their total to 14. They are self-described as a collection of communists, pacifists and radicals. Together with the Socialist Party, they have 28 seats in Parliament. Rutte stated beforehand that he would not consider Wilders in a new government. Instead, he will likely look to the center-Right Christian Democrats (19 seats) and D66 (another 19 seats).
The Green Party’s gains came largely at the expense of both Rutte’s and Wilders’ parties and a large bloc of those age 18-29 mainly white (the millennial group) voted for the Greens. What this means for the future of Dutch politics should be closely watched.
Wilders Sort of Succeeded
Even though the PVV did not perform up to expectations, Geert Wilders did succeed in pushing Rutte’s party to the right on certain issues. Further, Rutte benefited from a highly controversial activity intrinsic to Dutch politics. By refusing to allow Turkish officials to address a pro-Turkey rally in Rotterdam, Rutte stared down the Turkish government which voters noted was a sign of strength.
Further, Rutte’s party can no longer count on the Labor Party and does not want to count on the far Left Green Party. That leaves only center-Right parties all of which are to the Right of his VVD Party, or D66- considerably to his Left.. During the campaign, Rutte was sounding more conservative than in the past and his standoff with Turkey may have confirmed a slight move to the Right among some voters.
It will be interesting to see where this coalition government leads. Rutte needs 76 seats. D66 is certainly to the Left, but they are needed if he is to be successful and they are clearly open-borders. Wilders was clearly closed borders with Rutte coming somewhere in between. Some are saying that D66 may want the Green Party in the new government given the similarities in their immigration policies. Rutte has vowed NOT to include Wilders’ party in the coalition government.
This Has Nothing to Do With France
Now that this election is over and nationalist populism failed to make the expected gains in Holland, all eyes will be on France. The first round will be held on April 23rd and a runoff, if needed, on May 7th. Everyone is expecting a runoff pitting Marine Le Pen against Emmanuel Macron. Although Le Pen’s National Front may have some things in common with Wilders (they are both anti-immigration and both anti-EU), the differences stop there.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Wilders was expected to make huge gains in Holland but failed to meet expectations, Le Pen is expected to lose in the May 7th runoff. While there was- at least in theory- everything for Wilders to lose in Holland, there is little for Le Pen to lose in France.
Further, the situation is so tenuous in France that a single terrorist attack on French soil in the next month could change the entire dynamics. Le Pen has used every French terrorist attack to her “I told you so” advantage and she would no doubt do so again.
An Ethnic Minority Party Gets Political…and Wins
A new ethnic party- Denk- comprised of Muslims gained 3 seats in parliament with 2% of the national vote. Surprisingly (or maybe not), Denk outperformed Wilders’ party in the nation’s capital- Amsterdam. Then again, about 20% of Amsterdam’s population is Muslim. Again, their ascendance is due to the Labor Party’s descent. That is, those Muslims who would have normally voted Labor voted Denk instead.
Generally speaking, one should not “fear” a strictly pro-Turkish Muslim party with three seats in parliament. However, it does underscore a dynamic in Europe brought about by the wave of Muslim immigration that motivates people like Le Pen and Wilders: they see their unique national identities and cultures under attack. The victory by Denk in getting three seats will likely be used to fan the flames of anti-Muslim immigrants by the more far Right elements in Holland. In other words, Wilders has been handed another talking point and scare tactic. Imagine if the Black Panthers in the United States formed a political party and they won 9 seats in the House here in the United States…