Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right VVD is set to win Wednesday’s election ahead of the far-right PVV

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minster, has taken a tough stance on immigration and integration to fend off a challenge from Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV). Wednesday’s parliamentary election, the first of Europe’s big elections this year, will show whether the voter anger, which prompted Brexit and delivered the victory for Donald Trump in the US presidential election, is reverberating across Europe.

On March 11, the Dutch government refused to let the Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to fly into the Netherlands to campaign among Turkish-Dutch dual nationals ahead of Turkey’s referendum on sweeping constitutional reforms to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power, fearing that his arrival would provoke public unrest. Later in the day, the Turkish ministry of family affairs Fatma Kaya entered the Netherlands by land from Germany, where she had been campaigning, and attempted to visit the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, against the Dutch government’s wishes. Police forcibly returned her to the German border. The government’s moves sparked protests outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, which were dispersed by riot police with dogs and water cannons. Stopping the foreign minister from speaking at a Rotterdam rally prompted Mr Erdogan, who is overseeing a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Turkey, to accuse Mr Rutte’s government of using Nazi-style practices. A vast majority of Dutch people supported the government’s handling of the situation as it showed political decisiveness.

The Netherlands’ political scene is fragmented, with 28 parties on a ballot paper, many of them a single-issue such as the Party for the Animals and 50Plus, a pensioners’ party. The fragmentation is due to the extreme version of proportional representation. Any party that wins 0.67 per cent of the vote will get a seat in the 150-member House of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. Up to 14 parties are forecast to win seats.

Mr Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is expected to come first, with 17 per cent of the vote and 24-28 seats ahead of Mr Wilders’ party, which is forecast to secure 14 per cent of the vote and 19-22 seats. The anti-Islam, anti-EU PVV is expected to perform strongly in rural areas with a high number of immigrants and a lower proportion of more educated voters. The centre-left Labour Party (PvdA), which is in a coalition with the VVD, is set to lose two-thirds of its seats, falling from the second-largest political force in parliament to the seventh. The Labour’s lost voters are mostly distributed between the left-leaning, environmentalist Green Left, the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDA) and the left-liberal D66. The Green Left is likely to win 16-18 seats on 11 per cent of the vote with its old-fashioned leftwing platform and pro-EU policies. The D66, which runs on a pro-European ticket, is expected to secure 12 per cent of the vote, or 17-19 seats, thanks to strong support in university towns.

Coalitions are always needed in the Netherlands. The three leftist parties – the PvdA, the Socialist Party (SP) and the Green Left – are polling at close to 30 per cent between them. The centre-right – the VVD and the CDA – is polling at 30 per cent. A five-party alliance may be required to form a governing coalition.

Mr Wilders is seeking to score another victory for populism after the Brexit vote in the UK and Mr Trump’s presidential election victory. But even if the PVV becomes the largest party in parliament, its path to power will be blocked as Dutch politics depend on compromises and Mr Wilders is regarded as unreliable.

Photo: Andrej Klizan / Public domain

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