At the risk of being proven depressingly wrong in mid-March, I don’t believe that Geert Wilders will be the next Dutch Prime Minister. The reason I think this is because of the polling data, the structure of the Dutch electoral system, and the political culture of the Netherlands. Despite this prediction, there can be no room for complacency on the part of those of us who argue against authoritarians like Wilders. All political parties must come together to oppose his racist populism and defeat them in the ballot box. Electoral success will give the voices of opposition a platform that are needed to stem the rise of reactionary right-wing policies.
Opinion polls have had a bad rap recently with Brexit and the whole Trump situation, however I don’t think that a few strange results should mean that we ignore polls from here on out. In the most recent seat projections the PVV, Wilders’ party, has shown to be a sizable distance from monopolising the policy-making process. If we look at the mean of all eight polls from December, Wilders’ party is predicted to win approximately 34 seats. Although this would make the PVV the largest single party, the average of the same polls would put the parties currently governing the Netherlands at around 36 (VVD on 25 and PvdA on 11). In order to have a majority in the House of Representatives a party needs to win 76 seats.
I’m not saying that the current purple government will win re-election or that these two parties would elect to go into coalition with each other again, but it does show that the prospect of an outright PVV government in infinitesimally small. If I was a gambling man I would think that a three-way centre/centre-right coalition between the VVD, D66, and the CDA would be the next Dutch government, but only if current polling holds.
The second aspect is something that I have alluded to in my analysis of the polls. Not only has the Netherlands got proportional representation, but they do not have any formal constituencies. All representatives are elected nationally and as such the proportion of the vote is mirrored in the proportion of seats awarded to each party. To use the average polling information from above once again, the PVV couldn’t govern without the support of other political parties. He cannot become Prime Minister after winning only 34 seats. Even if his party was the largest and he became Prime Minister in an official capacity, his government would handily lose a vote of no confidence as that is something that the remaining of representatives would agree on.
But the electoral arithmetic is only one side of the coin; the other is the political culture of the Netherlands. Wilders is a politically divisive figure that is thoroughly disliked by a very large proportion of the Dutch electorate. Further, his party has been accused of being openly bigoted against Muslims, and those accusations are incredibly true. Any brief look at the party’s policies illustrates how hostile the party is toward the Islamic faith and as such any suggestion of coalitions with PVV is politically toxic.
Irrespective of what polling says now, the Left needs to co-opt the issues most important to PVV voters to bring them away from such a horrifying policy platform. The Socialist Party have already begun doing this by trying to appeal voters by pledging to remove private sector involvement in the Dutch healthcare system. Other parties of the Left need to speak to people’s concerns about terrorism, migration, housing, the economy, and so on and put forward bold left-wing solutions that have been marginalised for a number of years. Investing in new technical infrastructure, for example, would create a number of new jobs across the country and would increase the economic and energy efficiency of public transportation.
We live in a time where nuance is rejected in favour of sound-bite solutions. Not only must the Left address people’s concerns, we need to have a grassroots movement built to allow left-wing solutions to be given a proper hearing. If the mainstream press continues looking for headlines and we need to be able to convey our message but that doesn’t capitulating and reinforcing the poisonous discourse of recent months.
The Netherlands has a excellent reputation around the world as being open and tolerant of all people, and I sincerely hope that reputation is justified and that the PVV do not do as well as the polls are predicting. However even if the polls are correct I believe that the optics of Dutch society are such that Wilders will not be the next Prime Minister. However, if 2016 has taught s anything it is that complacency can set in. My prediction shouldn’t be cause for comfort but a goal to aim for.
Regardless of whether or not Wilders will be the next head of government, the Left needs to get its act together. The Left needs to be the one talking about people’s everyday concerns whilst steering the discourse away from Wilders’ disgusting rhetoric. Creating jobs, investing in public services, and defending the country’s principle of ethnic and cultural pluralism must be at the forefront of this election. Wilders will portray himself as the person who will take the Netherlands back to ‘the good old days’ but there must be a united Left correctly labeling him as what he is: a threat to the country’s future.