Dutch Voters Swing to the Right

Liberals and nationalists emerged as the largest political parties in the Netherlands.

Parliamentarian elections in the Netherlands on Wednesday have left the political landscape in the small European country unusually strained. Until late into the night, the results were too close to call with both the liberal party and Labor vying for the top position. Ultimately, the liberals under Mark Rutte’s leadership prevailed and won 31 seats; former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen lost three for Labor compared to their last presence in parliament and ended up with thirty seats.

The traditional ruling party, the Christian Democrats, were hit hard by the votes, losing almost half of their seats in the lower house of parliament. Outgoing prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced his resignation as party leader after the firsts results poured on. He will continue to lead the government until a new cabinet assumes power.

The uncontested champion of the election turned out to be right-wing politician Geert Wilders who more than doubled his Freedom Party’s support. Preelection polls gave Wilders around eighteen seats. He ultimately won 24, making him the third largest political party of the Netherlands, before the Christian Democrats.

A new government will be hard pressed not to involve Wilders in spite of his staunch positions on Islam and immigration which have been disavowed by many on the left. Wilders campaigned on his promise to curb the supposed Islamification of the Netherlands and has proposed banning the Quran, the burqa and taxing Muslim women wearing headscarfs. Even the liberal party, politically closest to Wilders, has described his rhetoric as extreme.

A right-wing coalition of Christian Democrats, liberals and Geert Wilders now maintains a slim majority in the lower house of parliament but would be prevented from passing legislation because the latter has no seats in the Senate. Together, the Christian Democrats and the liberal party have 35 seats in the upper legislative body; three short of an absolute majority.

A broad, “Purple” coalition, formed by Labor, liberals and two parties from the political center seems most likely at this stage, although the liberal party repeatedly attacked Labor during the campaign over its supposed unwillingness to enact necessary economic reforms. The next government will have to find almost €30 billion in budget cuts. The liberals have proposed to slash the foreign aid budget and reform social security. Labor fears that that will usher in the end of the welfare state and has warned that when the liberals have their way, hundreds of thousands will be reduced to poverty.

Even a “Purple” coalition has no majority in the Senate and would have to rely on conservative support to pass legislation. A “government of national unity” has been raised as a possibility. The three mainstream parties, Christian Democrats, Labor and the liberals, maintain comfortable majorities in both houses of parliament. Whether the Christian Democrats, after suffering such heavy losses, will want to run the risk of being overshadowed by the two larger parties is doubtful though.