Dutch Populists Make Gains, But Fall Short of Victory

Wilders' Party of Freedom wins new seats, will be crucial voting bloc for loose governing coalition

Unofficial results in the Netherlands suggest that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) have survived a challenge by right-wing populist Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom (PVV).

The PVV is currently expected to win 31 seats in the Dutch parliament, while Wilders’ PVV is reportedly tied with the centrist, center right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the left-wing Democrats 66 (D66) with 19 seats.

“Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!!”

“This is a night for the Netherlands,” Rutte told supporters following the release of exit polling. “After Brexit, after the US election, we said ‘stop it, stop it’ to the wrong kind of populism.”

But to argue that Wilders’ failure to win or come in clear second place is proof of a revolt against the right-wing populist tide sweeping the West may be premature.

The recent diplomatic crisis with Turkey appeared to increase the current Dutch government’s support and many liberals reportedly voted tactically for the VVD in order to prevent Wilders and the PVV from making significant gains.

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“I thought it was important and so I voted strategically,” Amsterdam resident Kathie Somerwil told CNN. “I usually vote a little more left of center but at least now with this Wilders, I think this is not the Dutch way … so I voted VVD for Mr. Rutte.”

And although the PVV failed to do as well as polls suggested they might only a few weeks ago, the party still managed to increase its representation. “We won seats!” tweeted Wilders. “Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!!”

The Netherlands’ electoral system works via proportional representation. If a political party doesn’t get a majority, then the formation of a coalition government is necessary.

And although every major party, including the VVD, has pledged not to work with the PVV in a coalition, Rutte may still need to rely on Wilders’ support in the future administration of the government.

In fact, after the 2010 elections — in which the PVV performed even better than today’s election, taking 24 seats — although Rutte was still able to form a governing coalition with the CDA, that government had to rely strongly on the support of Wilders’ party for support.

After the 2012 elections Rutte had to form a coalition with the Labor Party after they took nearly as many seats. But after this week’s elections, if the PVV really is tied for second place with the centrist CDA and the progressive D66, it likely puts Rutte in the position of either forming a government with a far-left party, or once again forming a weak coalition with the CDA and relying heavily on Wilders’ party’s support to govern.

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Either way, the questions raised about national sovereignty and globalisation; mass migration, multiculturalism, and national identity over the last year aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

“Whatever the outcome of the election today, the genie will not go back into the bottle,” Wilders told reporters earlier on Wednesday after casting his vote. “People feel misrepresented.”

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