Dutch Mainstream Defeats Populist Geert Wilders

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party remains the single largest. Geert Wilders underperforms.

Dutch party leaders Geert Wilders and Mark Rutte
Dutch party leaders Geert Wilders and Mark Rutte (European Parliament/European Council)
  • Prime Minister Mark Rutte won the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands on Wednesday. Preliminary results put his liberal party in the lead to form the next government.
  • The Christian Democrats, liberal Democrats and nationalist Freedom Party would share second place.
  • The Greens have overtaken Labor as the largest party on the left.
  • Given that all major parties have ruled out a pact with the Freedom Party, a coalition of four or five parties close to the center is expected to come to power.
  • Turnout was 80 percent, the highest in three decades.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201710:42 AM

Welcome to our live blog! Let’s start with the logistics:

Polling stationed opened across the Netherlands at 7:30 AM local time this morning and will close at 9 PM, except on the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius. They represent a tiny fraction of the overall electorate of 12.7 million, though, and are unlikely to influence the outcome.

Turnout is usually between 75 and 80 percent. In the last election in 2012, just under 9.5 million valid votes were cast.

There is no electoral threshold. There are 150 seats in the lower house of the Dutch parliament, which means a candidate must win 1/150 of the votes to qualify. Last time, approximately 63,000 votes were needed for a seat.

The official result will not be announced until March 21, but we should have a pretty good idea of the outcome by Thursday morning.

Ipsos is conducting a major exit poll for the broadcasters NOS and RTL, which will be published right after polls close at 9. It is usually reliable. Last time, its projection was off by only six seats.

Results may take longer this year than usual, because all the votes must be tallied manually. This out of fear that a computerized system was vulnerable to (Russian) hacking.

To learn more about the Dutch voting system, the major parties and the key issues, consult our election guide.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201711:56 AM

Domino effect

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte arrives for a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, February 12, 2015
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte arrives for a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, February 12, 2015 (European Council)

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has urged voters not to let the Netherlands become the “third domino” that falls to populism after Britain voted to leave the European Union and America elected Donald Trump.

“This is not the time to experiment,” he said this week.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201712:02 PM

Invisible and unhinged

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens during a news conference in Brussels, June 16, 2015
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders listens during a news conference in Brussels, June 16, 2015 (European Parliament)

Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party has been going down in the polls. Its support peaked at 21 percent in December only to fall to 14 percent in the latest average of polls.

There appear to be two reasons:

1. Wilders skipped most of the debates and gave few interviews. The strategy, inspired by Donald Trump’s unconventional presidential campaign in the United States, was criticized by other party leaders, who accused Wilders of hiding behind slogans.

2. He has become unhinged in his anti-Islamism. Wilders previously argued for a ban on the construction of new mosques. He now wants to shut down all existing mosques. Wilders previously maintained there was a difference between rejecting Islamic thought and rejecting Muslims, but in the 2014 local elections he outright called for “fewer Moroccans” in the city of The Hague, where his Freedom Party competed. This earned him a guilty verdict for inciting discrimination two years later.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20171:03 PM

Urban-rural divide

An op-ed in de Volkskrant argues that this election takes place against a widening divide between the metropolitan “Randstad” (the conurbation between the major cities in the west of the Netherlands) and the rest of the country. Young and ambitious people move to the city, as a result of which vulnerable groups are left behind in the periphery: older people with less education, lower incomes and lower life expectancy.

The gap between city and countryside is smaller in the Netherlands than in, say, France or the United States. But it exists.

It’s one of the reasons why — as I reported here last month — the Freedom Party polls well in the outer provinces of Groningen, Limburg and Zeeland.

By contrast, the pro-EU and multicultural Greens and liberal Democrats are popular in the Randstad.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20171:31 PM

Don’t worry about the many political parties

Civil servants listen to a debate in the Dutch parliament in The Hague, December 6, 2016
Civil servants listen to a debate in the Dutch parliament in The Hague, December 6, 2016 (SZW/Martijn Beekman)

Foreign observers see the proliferation of political parties in the Netherlands as a potential threat to stability. I’m not so sure. The country has always had coalition governments and the Dutch political system is generally able to absorb newcomers.

In the 1960s and 70s, the liberal Democrats were the anti-establishment outsiders. They now are the metropolitan elite.

In the early 2000s, Pim Fortuyn’s party led a populist revolt. It was defanged in a coalition government with the center-right. (That history may explain why Geert Wilders is so reluctant to govern.)

In the 1980s and 90s, the political landscape was less diverse. At one point, the Christian Democrats, Labor and liberal parties even claimed 90 percent of the votes between them.

But a decade earlier, there were as many as fourteen parties in parliament, including populist agrarians, communists and anti-nuclear pacifists. Joop den Uyl needed five parties for a majority in 1973.

Politics was less fragmented in the 1950s and 60s, but if we go back to the Depression era we find more than a dozen parties in parliament again.

Whenever there is economic or social upheaval in the Netherlands — as was the case during the interwar years and again in the 1970s — new parties pop up. We seem to be in such a period again.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20171:53 PM

Dutch could lose Eurogroup presidency

The Netherlands’ Jeroen Dijsselbloem currently chairs meetings of the eurozone finance ministers, but his Labor Party is bracing for an historic defeat and unlikely to stay in government. Spain’s Luis de Guindos would be happy to take his place.

The trouble is de Guindos is member of the conservative European People’s Party, which already controls the presidencies of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.

The only other prominent social democrat in the Eurogroup is Michel Sapin of France, but his Socialist Party is also likely to be ejected from power this year.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20173:18 PM

Green party will have to choose between power and principles

Dutch Green party leader Jesse Klaver makes a speech in Utrecht, November 20, 2016
Dutch Green party leader Jesse Klaver makes a speech in Utrecht, November 20, 2016 (GroenLinks)

One of the more surprising stories of this election has been the rise of the Green party.

Under the leadership of Jesse Klaver, the party has overtaken both Labor and the Socialists as the largest on the left. It polls at 11 percent support, which would give it sixteen to eighteen seats in parliament: more than four times the number of seats it has now.

Earlier this month, I called Klaver the anti-Wilders. Unlike the Freedom Party leader, he is pro-EU, multicultural, socially progressive, pro-refugee and — of course — an environmentalist.

In that sense, Klaver and his Greens represent one extreme in the Netherlands’ blue-red culture war. They appeal to urban college graduates. Wilders and his Freedom Party appeal to rural and small-town voters without university degrees.

The challenge for Klaver is deciding what to do next: go into government with the center-right or stay in opposition. If he opts for the former, left-wing voters could easily be disappointed. The reason Labor is so far down in the polls is that it went in coalition with Rutte’s liberals in 2012. But if the Greens refuse to govern, then what’s the point in voting for them next time?

Click here to learn more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20176:45 PM

Optimist versus pessimist

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is photographed in his residence in The Hague, September 19, 2011
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is photographed in his residence in The Hague, September 19, 2011 (Rijksoverheid)

International coverage of Mark Rutte’s reelection campaign has largely emphasized the ways in which he emulates Geert Wilders.

This report from The New York Times is a typical example. It claims the liberal premier has taken a “Trump-like turn” in the face of a “hard-right challenge”, siding with the “silent majority” in his country against non-natives.

This is a little over the top but not altogether wrong. Rutte’s center-right party has adopted more repressive immigration and integration policies. It is also more Euroskeptic than it was a decade ago, when Wilders started out.

But it’s not the whole story.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20178:04 PM

Exit poll puts liberals in the lead

The first exit poll shows Rutte’s liberals comfortably in the lead with 31 out of 150 seats.

That is a loss of ten seats compared to their 2012 performance, but a better result than the polls had predicted.

The Christian Democrats, liberal Democrats and Freedom Party would win nineteen seats each.

Labor is seen falling from 38 to nine seats, which would be an historic defeat.

The Greens appear to have overtaken the social democrats as the largest party on the left. The exit poll gives them sixteen seats.

An updated exit poll is due to be released in half an hour. Later in the night, news agencies will publish and update projections as results start pouring in. An official prognosis is not expected until close to midnight local time.

András Tóth-Czifra András Tóth-Czifra March 15, 20178:15 PM

Test of Orbán’s vision for a Europe

Last year, nations rebelled against the unholy alliance of Brussels bureaucrats, the global liberal media and the international capital with bottomless greed. First the Brits, then the Americans. This year, this will continue.

These words, uttered today, are not the words of Geert Wilders. These are the words of a European People’s Party politician: Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán. On the anniversary of Hungary’s 1848 revolution, he likened the EU to the Holy Alliance, a reactionary pact between nineteenth-century Austria, Russia and Prussia.

Orbán would, without a doubt, rejoice over a good result for the Dutch Freedom Party.

His and Wilders’ views align. Both cultivate Islamophobia and Euroskepticism.

Tonight’s result in the Netherlands will show if Orbán’s vision of a Europe of hardline nationalists has gotten closer.

However, the fact that Orbán’s controversial statements — today’s was hardly the first — and his intent to bring about the collapse of the political center have not triggered his party’s expulsion from the European People’s Party speaks volumes about the vulnerability of the mainstream. The views and goals of Orbán and his party are similar to Wilders’ — and diagonally opposed to the values which the EPP stands for.

If Orbán’s support for Donald Tusk at last week’s European Council summit was enough for the EPP to continue calling him an ally, then regardless of today’s results, the Wilders’ of Europe are winning.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20178:26 PM

Next coalition likely to be center-right

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016 (European Parliament)

If the exit poll proves correct, the ruling liberal party of Mark Rutte would come close to finding a majority in parliament together with the likeminded liberal Democrats and Christian Democrats.

The three parties are projected to win 69 seats. 76 are needed for a majority.

The option that will probably be explored first is a four-party coalition with the Greens.

The Greens have overtaken the Labor Party and Socialists on the left, going up from four to sixteen seats, according to the exit poll. It would be the best election result for the Greens to date.

Although they share views with the liberal Democrats, the Greens would be the only left-wing party in such a coalition. They may prefer to add Labor, but it suffered an historic defeat. More likely, they will demand significant concessions from the other parties, including higher taxes for polluters.

Click here to read more.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20178:50 PM

Gains for small parties

The Christian Union, which is economically progressive but socially conservative, is seen going up from five to six seats.

The Party for the Animals goes up from two to five in the exit poll.

The seniors party 50Plus goes up from two to four (a smaller victory than polls had predicted).

The immigrant party Denk — whose leaders split from Labor — and the Euroskeptic Forum for Democracy would enter parliament for the first time with three and two seats, respectively.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20179:10 PM

Commentators agree

The exit poll has united commentators from the left, right and center in their appraisal of the outcome.

Jelle Brandt Corstius, a left-leaning journalist, writes, “Voters overwhelmingly chose for a Netherlands that is tolerant, reasonable and a little boring.”

Jack de Vries, a former Christian Democratic party strategist, agrees, tweeting that fears that the Netherlands would lead continental Europe into rejecting the political mainstream turned out to be unfounded.

Right-wing commentator Joshua Livestro makes the same argument: “Dutch voters turned out in record numbers to stop the populist revolt.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 20179:49 PM

What happens tomorrow?

In the past, the monarch would play a coordinating role.

He or she would receive all party leaders in the aftermath of the election before appointing an informateur to explore possible coalitions; unusually a retired politician of some stature. The informateur (best translated as “explorer”) would hold talks and report back to the head of state. By the time one coalition option had emerged as the most probable, the king or queen would name a formateur — usually the prospective prime minister — to begin the process of forming a government.

Parliament cut the king out of the process in 2012. It now appoints an informateur itself.

The first time parliament managed the process was later that same year. It wasn’t exactly a trial by fire. All the parties recognized there was only one good option: a left-right compromise between the Labor Party and Mark Rutte’s liberals.

This time could be trickier. With four or five parties needed for a majority, politicians may come to regret eliminating the impartial monarch from the process.

There is still a semi-neutral mediator: the speaker of the lower chamber, Labor’s Khadija Arib. She is expected to chair a meeting of party leaders on Thursday.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201710:16 PM

Germans relieved

Peter Altmaier, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, argues that the election result in the Netherlands shows that democracy and reason are stronger than demagoguery.

Martin Schulz, the leader of the German Social Democrats, tweets (in Dutch), “I am relieved, but we must continue to fight for an open and free Europe.”

The German Foreign Ministry thanks the Dutch for rejecting “anti-European populists”.

Germany will have its own elections later this year. The Freedom Party-aligned Alternative für Deutschland is polling around 10 percent support.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201710:46 PM

PASOK-ization of Labor

Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta‏ calls it the PASOK-ization of Labor: the collapse of the Dutch social democrats. The party appears to have suffered an historic defeat. The exit poll gives Labor just nine seats. It has been eclipsed on the left by both the Greens and the Socialists.

The result was not unexpected. Labor has polled under 10 percent support for years. It fell from a 25-percent high in 2012 after forming a coalition government with the right and never recovered.

The choice it faces is the same for social democrats elsewhere: either attempt to lure back traditional working-class voters with an economically more populist program or double down on center-left policies that appeal to the socially progressive middle class. The first group of voters has flocked to the Freedom Party, the second to the liberal Democrats and Greens.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201711:01 PM

In Amsterdam, the Greens and liberal Democrats have placed first and second with 19 and 18 percent support, respectively. The immigrant party Denk got 7.5 percent support in the capital.

The gains for all three parties appear to have largely come at Labor’s expense, which is down 27 percent.

Amsterdam was a Labor bastion for many decades. It was ejected from the city government in 2014 for the first time since the end of the Second World War.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201711:19 PM

Christian Democrats move up

With 10 percent of the votes counted, the liberals remain in the lead with the equivalent of 33 out of 150 seats. That’s two more than the exit poll gave them. The Christian Democrats are up to 25 seats whereas the exit poll gave them nineteen.

Don’t read too much into these figures. This is based on results from mostly small and rural municipalities, where the Christian Democrats traditionally do better. But, on the other hand, votes have already been counted in Amsterdam and Groningen, two major cities.

If the Christian Democrats stay at 25 seats, a third-party coalition with the two liberal parties would become possible.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 15, 201711:54 PM

This concludes our live coverage of the Dutch election. It is almost 1 AM here in the Netherlands. The only uncertainty at this point is if the Christian Democrats will win enough seats to make a three-party coalition with the two liberal parties possible. I doubt it, but there is a chance.

Click here to monitor live results from the public broadcaster NOS, which breaks down the results per municipality, gender, age and education.

Click here to read an explainer from us about what happens next.

Thank you for reading the Atlantic Sentinel tonight and please come back tomorrow when the process of forming a new government begins.

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