From Martin Jordan in Amsterdam
Right-wing liberals win Dutch election against far right Wilders
The currently ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) with its leader and current Prime Minister Mark Rutte won the Dutch Parliamentary Election decisively with 31 seats, first exit polls show.
The far right Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders, at the moment, has won 19 seats. Also the left-wing liberal Democrats 66 (D66) party and the religious conservative Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) won 19 seats each. Voter turnout was exceptionally high and the high level of voters undecided until the last minute made predictions difficult and kept the nation on its toes.
Never before was the choice for the Dutch, whose traditional mainstream parties have lost their dominant position and were now fighting with in total 28 parties for the 150 seats in the lower house of Parliament, so diverse. Now, the VVD faces the hard task of forming a coalition with at least three other parties to be able to form a parliamentary majority.
Wilders is not discouraged by this defeat and stated already earlier today: “Whatever the choice today, the spirit will not go back into the bottle, this patriotic revolution will take place, either today or tomorrow”.
Wilders is a former VVD politician with persuasive, divisive and arrogant rhetoric and an exceptional ability to manipulate the media and public discussion. For the last 10 years he has been living under strict personal security due to serious threats to his life and constantly needs to move from one safe house to the other which has not stopped him from continuing to go down the rabbit hole of hate. His political platform consists of one A4 sheet of paper and focuses on de-Islamising the country, getting rid of immigrants and leaving the European Union.
Similar to other rightist demagogues, he only talks to traditional media outlets when it suits his agenda and solely on his terms. His preferred channel of communication is Twitter; 140 characters, harsh language, carefully chosen expletives and very simple but effective slogans are how he communicate directly and “unfiltered” to his target audience. The rest of the media cannot do much else than rely on Wilder’s tweets in their reporting. In this way, he successfully uses one-liners to spread his propaganda and agitate without the possibility of being challenged by journalistic questioning.
In his election campaign, which mainly took place only on social media, he painted the picture of an economically and socially declining Netherlands. In his only TV debate with sitting Prime Minister, Mark Rutte (VVD), he presented himself as the man who can “stop the sell-out of the Netherlands” and prevent that “Africa, Brussels and asylum seekers get all the money”.
Indeed, the Netherlands is among the European countries that suffered most in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Then, also the Dutch housing bubble burst and the drop in housing prices forced families who bought their homes with cheap loans into deep debts. The consequential drop in consumer purchasing power put the Dutch economy on a downwards spiral that the government has tackled with pay freezes and cuts to pensions and social services.
It took until 2015 before the Dutch economy made headway again and is today again one of the most competitive EU countries. However, while workers and middle class needed to pay the bill of the burst financial speculation bubble, they have not benefited from the economic growth since. Their household incomes have increased only marginally in the last 15 years.
The feelings of financial insecurity and high competitiveness in the labour market by many Dutch workers has intensified tensions between social, economic and ethnic groups, a fertile ground for right-wing populism that the ruling VVD party sought to counter with their “act normal or go away” campaign, which was supposed to target voters who have been leaving it in droves.
With a full-page advertisement in several national newspapers, Mark Rutte addressed an open letter to the Dutch people. The most striking part of the letter criticises those who refuse to integrate and assimilate to Dutch values. Rutte stated that the solution to discrimination lies with immigrants themselves: “they have to fight their way in”. The latter he repeated during the campaign when asked about discrimination in the labour market, when he stated that it “still matters a lot if your name is Mohammed or Jan when you are applying for a job” but newcomers have to “assimilate” and “fight their way in”.
For the moment, however, Dutch voters have left Wilders far short of any possibility of governmental power.