16 Mar 2017

5 interesting facts about Dutch elections

Mark Rutte is the big winner of yesterday’s parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, spreading enthusiasm across Europe for a victory that many people saw as “victory against populism”. Rutte hailed the win saying that his country said “stop to the wrong short of populism”. The President of the Commission of the European Union, Jean Claude Juncker, called it “a vote for Europe, a vote against extremists”.

The EU officials were relieved to see Rutte’s VVD party coming in at first place and, possibly, 33 seats in the Parliament, leaving second Wilders’ PVV party with, possibly, 20 seats. James Duch, a spokesman for the EU Parliament tweeted “2017 is not 2016” referring to Donald Trump’s win and Brexit. With the ultra-right Marine Le Pen being the main candidate for winning the first round of the upcoming French presidential elections, the EU establishment seems to get a breath of fresh air through the Dutch elections outcome. Apart from personal beliefs, it would be useful to comment on some Dutch election facts.

Firstly, Rutte indeed gained a great victory against Geert Wilders. The, part time professor and piano player, center-right prime minister managed to overcome the fact that he was facing criticism because of the economic measures he had to take in the last years, making the Dutch citizens reluctant to vote for him once more. During his elections campaign, he had to move his agenda more to the right to try and to win votes from the Islamophobic Geert Wilders. In a country that has 1,8 million foreign born residents, Rutte wrote in an open letter: “I understand the people who think that if you so fundamentally reject our land, I prefer that you leave. Act normal or go away.” But this wasn’t the turning point that put him so far in front of Wilders in surveys that, until ten days ago, both candidates were showing to be very close. Rutte must thank the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, who tried to send two of his ministers to talk in front of Dutch Turk citizens for the advantages of his constitutional reform. This is considered illegal in the Netherlands and Rutte’s government, in a tour de force, banned both of them. It seems that Mark Rutte, with a little help from Erdogan, showed who has the upper hand in the Netherlands, attracting voters from the far-right.

Secondly, Wilders’ PVV party seems to be getting 20 seats in the Parliament which is 5 seats more than the 2012 elections. In polls, Wilders was, for many weeks, close to Rutte and lots of people were expecting a tough fight between them. Eventually, Rutte took the first place relatively easy but Wilders’ also grew stronger. It is a defeat for Wilders’ dream of ruling the Netherlands and making immigrants’ lives difficult in every possible way, but the PVV gained power and it seems that Dutch citizens listen to and, sometimes, agree with its agenda. Wilders, who never has a bad hair day and tweets his political opinion on serious matters of state, is here to stay and is a force to be reckoned with.

Thirdly, left-wing parties, like the GreenLeft and the D66, increased significantly their shares in the Dutch parliament. Jesse Claver, who looks like the twin brother of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, led the Greens to almost quadrupling their seats, from 4 to 14. The Green Left attracted voters with their pro-EU and pro-enviromental stance. As the Green Left chairwoman Marjolein Meijer said: “for us this is just the beginning. The result shows that there is very fertile ground in the Netherlands for change and a positive hopeful story”.

Fourthly, Lodewijk Aascher’s Labour party suffered a crashing defeat gaining just 9 seats in the Parliament. This is the biggest slump in the vote for any party in the Dutch election history. The Dutch finance minister and chairman of the Eurogroup Jeroen Djisselbloem, who is a member of the party, called the result disappointing and pointed out the great victory against extreme populism. His party was decimated, reminding the fate of the Greek Socialist party.

Finally, the DENK party got 3 seats in the Parliament. This might go unnoticed but it is the first time that an ethnic minority party has entered parliament and it is even more serious when that party is supported by Dutch Turks. Denk means “think” in Dutch and “equality” in Turkish. DENK winning seats in Parliament is a strong sign that the Turkish minority wants to have a say in Dutch politics, while some analysts see their rise as an indication of deepening ethnic division. The clashes between protesters and police in Rotterdam, that were instigated by Erdogan’s rhetoric, might be just the beginning.

Coalition talks could take months and, possibly,might not succeed. Rutte needs, at least, 76 parliament seats to form a government. This means that he must convince the leaders of 3 other parties to cooperate with him. All leaders have said that they won’t talk with Geert Wilders. It remains to be seen which politicians are going to be the new ministers of the Dutch government and if Wilders will keep his momentum going with his Trump-like rhetoric.