In the last few months there has been much talk of the rise of right-wing populism, but in the first test of 2017 these forces have failed. The far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders has not only failed to win enough seats to become the next Dutch Prime Minister, his party finished second overall. The polling going into the final days of the campaign had shown the PVV dropping off in support and so this result shouldn’t have been overly surprising. However, the other noteworthy thing about the vote is the fragmentation of politics that has implications for future elections.
The results are in although because of the Dutch electoral system the specific figures may slightly change after a few recounts. However, it is clear that any changes will be small and will not significantly affect the result. The following are the preliminary figures are as follows.
Mark Rutte’s VVD won 33 seats after garnering 21.2% of the vote, about 5.3% less than in the last election. Geert Wilders shall return as a member of the House of Representatives as his party won 13.1% and did gain 5 more seats, taking the PVV’s total up to 20. The centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), led by Sybrand can Haersma Buma, won 19 seats and the centrist Democrats 66 (CDA) party also won 19 seats. The electoral arithmetic makes it likely that the CDA and D66 obvious candidates as members of a coalition with Mark Rutte’s party.
The Socialist Party won 14, one fewer than in the last election, and the GreenLeft party led by Jesse Klaver saw its share of the vote increase by 6.7%, providing the party with 10 seats more than at in 2012. The Labour Party saw themselves punished by the elecorate for being the junior partner in previous Rutte administration. Their share of the vote was down over 19% and the second biggest party at the last election is now in 7th place.
The centre-right Christian Union party won 5 seats, the left-wing Party for the Animals won 5 seats, and 50PLUS, a centrist party looking at issues for people over 50, won 4 seats. The hard-right Reformed Political Party, which has historically argued against universal suffrage, won 3 seats. DENK, a left-wing pro-multiculturalism party, won 3 seats, and the final two seats in the House of Representatives were won by the Forum for Democracy.
The election result clearly illustrates that Dutch politics is fragmenting and that the electorate are losing trust in the traditional parties. Although it a commonly observed phenomenon that the junior partner in coalitions tend to be worse off, the collapse of the Labour Party is a part of a wider trend of Pasokification whereby traditional social-democratic parties are in decline. People feel betrayed by these parties and are turning to different organisations, whether it is left-wing parties like the GreenLeft or the Party for the Animals or the PVV on the far-right.
Additionally, Mark Rutte’s party has serious challenges ahead of it. The VVD may well have survived as the largest party at this election but Rutte has two parties that are ideologically similar and appear to be on the rise. The CDA appeal to much of the same Christian democratic base as the VVD, and more liberal voters may be tempted by D66. Rutte will have to hope that these two parties joining the coalition would kill two birds with one stone: keep him as Prime Minister for another few years; and neutralise those two parties as a political force. We shall see how things develop but if Wilders’ party is to be perpetually denied power, the government must prioritise spreading wealth around the country and raising living standards.
These results make a coalition of centre and centre-right parties the most likely outcome of the election, but it also means that Wilders’ party will be locked out of power. The campaign has been dominated by the toxic rhetoric of Wilders but this result illustrate how the Dutch people have rejected his horrible policies. Obviously I would have preferred to have a radical left-wing government so that the people of the Netherlands will no longer have to live under capitalist exploitation, but I can at least take comfort in the knowledge that the Netherlands is not going to be run by man who wanted to literally ban the Qur’an.
The job of the left going forward is to agitate against every policy of this new government that threatens the economic security of working people. This is not only limited to wages and jobs, but also the environment, healthcare, and education. Rutte was stopped from enacting much of his more conservative policies because he had the Labour Party as his coalition partners. A centre and centre-right government will not have this social-democratic impulse, and this is where the Left needs to be alert.