Dutch elections were due in 2025, but… there was a snap election Wednesday because Mark Rutte’s government collapsed and resigned in July. He had been prime minister for over a dozen years and the electorate was sick of him. He didn’t lead his party— the center right VVD— into the election and they took just 15.2% of the vote (down from 21.9% in 2021) and lost 10 seats in the 150 seat House. (Turnout was down by nearly a percentage point but not bad at 77.8%.) The neo-fascist PVV, led by Geert Wilders, came in first with 23.6% and 37 seats, up a startling 20. They won every province but Utrecht and didn’t do as well as in the rest of the country in North Holland (Amsterdam) either. In fact, Wilders-- like Trump-- lost all the big cities. In second place was Frans Timmerman’s left of center Greens + Labour, which had won 10.9% (17 seats) in 2021 and took 15.5% (25 seats) this time. The Socialist Party went from 6% and 9 seats to just 3.1% and 5 seats.
So what happened? Rutte’s coalition partners also collapsed: D66 took a miserable 6.2% and won just 9 seats 15 less than last time.
CDA was also obliterated, 3.3% of the vote, 5 seats, 10 down.
The NSC, basically a brand centrist new party (an offshoot of the CDA) won 12.9% of the vote and 20 seats, having run on an anti-immigrant platform and likely to be part of Wilders coalition.
Aside from Wilders, the other winners were the BBB (Farmer-Citizen Movement), which had won the provincial elections last March and just went from 1 seat to 7, having taken 4.7% of the vote. I imagine they’ll be part of Wilders’ coalition. Remember, 76 seats are needed to forma government and he’s less than halfway there. Somehow he’ll have to find 39 seats. The most obvious coalition partner for Wilders is the Forum for Democracy, another neo-fascist party but they went from 8 seats to 3 and from 5% to just 2.2%, their extreme right leader, Thierry Baudet, having been beaten up several times on the campaign trail.
After the results came in, Wilders compared himself to Hungarian fascist Viktor Orban and to far right leaders Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini (Italy), Andre Ventura (Portugal), Alice Weidel (Germany), Tom Van Grieken (Belgium) and Santiago Abasacal (Spain).
Several parties have already announced they would not serve in a coalition with Wilders, including Timmermans. In fact, it’s possible’s that Wilders will fail to for a government and a coalition between VVD and Timmermans ia on the horizon. Reuters reported that the process began yesterday with the appointment of “an explorer, a political outsider who will hear from each party what possibilities they see and prefer. Negotiations on the coalition that is deemed most likely will then begin, and should be expected to go on well into 2024. The formation of the last government, Rutte's fourth consecutive since becoming prime minister in 2010, was the longest in history with a total of nine months.”
The Guardian reassured its readers by noting that there’s no guarantee that Wilders will be able to form a government with a majority in the Netherlands’ 150-seat parliament. “Even if he can, the coalition process of endless compromise and concession by three, four or more parties means the most extreme parts of his manifesto, from banning the Qur’an to holding a Nexit referendum, are not about to become government policy.
A range of factors is driving their advance. For a long time, opposition to immigration, Islam and the EU were the far right’s core causes. More recently, culture wars, minority rights, and the climate crisis and the sacrifice needed to combat it have joined the list.
Their appeal has been further enhanced by a deep cost of living crisis flowing from pandemic recovery and Russia’s war on Ukraine, by rapid and confusing social and digital change, and– everywhere– by mounting mistrust of mainstream politicians.
Gradually, far-right parties have become normalised in a two-way process: as the centre right has adopted nativist talking points and been willing to cut coalition deals, far-right parties are moderating some of their more voter-repellent views.
Much of Europe’s centre right, for example, is now as hardline on immigration as the far right– while far-right parties are busy projecting economic discipline, dialling back on Euroscepticism and downplaying their past support for Russia.
Wilders, who surfed a wave of anti-immigration sentiment and frustration with successive mainstream coalitions to his victory, has himself softened his more hardline anti-Islam language, apparently in hopes of entering a coalition.
Whether or not he leads the Netherlands’ next government, his performance on Wednesday night is a reminder that, as The Guardian revealed in September, almost a third of Europeans now vote for populist, far-right or far-left parties.
Wide support for anti-establishment politics is continuing to surge across the continent– and, increasingly, challenging the mainstream.