Mark Rutte’s centre-right VVD wins an election. Dutch voters reject Geert Wilders’ far-right populism

The Netherlands was the first European nation to go to the polls, following the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. 28 parties contested the election on March 15; 13 parties won seats. Voter turnout was more than 80 per cent, among the highest in decades.

Mark Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) won Wednesday’s parliamentary election, taking 33 seats in the 150-strong House of Representatives, easily beating off a challenge from Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), though the VVD lost 8 seats compared to its election performance in 2012.

Mr Rutte benefited from his firm handling of a fierce diplomatic row with Turkey over his government’s refusal to allow Turkish ministers to campaign among Turkish-Dutch dual citizens ahead of April’s referendum on sweeping constitutional changes, which would give Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan almost complete control of the government.

The PVV secured 20 seats, a worse result that opinion polls had predicted, but a modest gain on its 2012 election result. The party’s strong election showing is part of a populist wave that has swept through western democracies, capitalising on fears over immigration and growing anti-establishment and anti-EU sentiments.

Mr Wilders started as MP in the same party as Mr Rutte, before splitting from it and founding the PVV in 2006. He is one of the Netherlands’ longest serving MPs, but portrays himself as an outsider. In 2010, Mr Wilders agreed to support a minority government led by Mr Rutte and including the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). In 2012, the government wanted to implement austerity measures to bring the budget deficit in line with EU rules. Rather than support cuts, the far-right leader reneged on the 2010 deal, causing the government’s collapse. Mr Wilders wants to shut down all mosques, ban Koran, close Dutch borders and leave the EU. He has called for disloyal citizens with dual nationality to be deported, saying that Muslim Dutch are a fifth column in the Netherlands. His radicalism is unacceptable to other political parties.

Mr Rutte’s coalition partner for the past five years, the centre-left Labour Party (PvdA) slumped to 9 seats from 38 seats in 2012, slipping from the second-largest party in parliament to the seventh. The PvdA lost support as voters blamed the party for abetting austerity measures needed to meet EU deficit limits.

The CDA and the pro-European, left-liberal D66 came third, with 19 seats, each. The far-left Socialists (SP) won 14 seats. The Greens have emerged as leaders of the left, winning 14 seats, up from 4 seats in 2012. The left-leaning, environmentalist party, which ran a pro-EU campaign, is the biggest beneficiary of the collapse of the PvdA.

The top six parties won between 14 and 31 seats, making coalition-building complicated. Four or five different parties will need to come together to form a government. The VVD’s likely coalition partners are the CDA, the D66 and the Green Left.

Photo: © European Union 2016 – European Parliament

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