Today is the beginning of campaigning for the Dutch general election being held on 15 March 2017 to elect all 150 members of the House of Representatives. Yes, the country famous for boring windmills, some great painters, and liberal drug laws is doing some politics. It’s likely that the election outcome will be incredibly terrifying at worst or just depressing at best.
That is largely because of the immense popularity of anti-Muslim nationalist Geert “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam” Wilders, whose resonating message of immigrant hysteria has hit home with social conservatives and their racial pathologies. Naturally, mainstream politicians have embraced a more moderate version of Wilders’ message, choosing to condemn vague outside forces rather than Islam or refugees directly. Hence, you have Mark Rutte, the incumbent Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the beacon of tolerance to the world, telling immigrants to “act normal or leave.”
Only Wilders has come out in favor of a referendum on EU membership, so it’s unlikely that there will be a “Nexit” in the near future. However, the last general election in 2012 centered around the austerity measures introduced by the government, and the provision of state benefits (or lack thereof) remains a huge electoral issue. It is possible (not probable) that a EU referendum could be used to placate PVV voters who will be angry that PVV will have the most seats but no place in government; such a vote would probably fail in the Netherlands but could further the anti-EU momentum bolstered by Brexit.
The good news is that, even if Wilders’ party wins a majority in the election, it’s unlikely it would be able to form a government without entering into a multi-party coalition, which the other major parties would be loath to join, especially with Wilders setting the agenda. The bad news is that a lot of voters will be dissatisfied voting for his anti-immigration rhetoric and not getting anti-immigration legislation and policies. Whatever emerges as the new government will therefore probably adopt the PVV platform, even to a limited extent. So Wilders may get his cake and also maintain his status as an “outsider” that has been such a boon to his populist image.
Here’s EUObserver to explain the Dutch election process:
One important feature of the Dutch electoral system of proportional representation, where receiving 0.7 percent of the vote can be enough to enter the Lower House, is the multitude of parties.
On 15 March, 28 different political parties will be running.
Since the end of World War II, seats have been divided among at least seven parties, with 11 parties winning seats in the previous election, in 2012.
However, in the past four years, eight MPs have left to form six new factions, many of whom are now also running in the hope of getting elected on their own strength.
It is no surprise that with so many parties, Dutch voters seek any help they can get to make up their mind.
Online tools that compare political positions of the parties are popular: in 2012, 4.85 million people used Stemwijzer, the most well-known website offering such a service. The Netherlands has a population of 17 million, with 12.9 million eligible to vote.
The multitude of parties, and the fact that many do not differ much in size, also offers some organisational problems, for instance: who do you invite for election debates?
TV broadcaster RTL had wanted to organise a debate with the leaders of the four largest political parties according to an average of six polls.
But on Sunday, it decided to invite five: the numbers three and four were so closely trailed by the number five, that RTL thought it would be unfair to exclude the latter.
The two frontrunners, anti-EU MP Geert Wilders and then centre-right prime minister Mark Rutte decided to cancel.
They said a debate with five leaders was against the original agreement, but other motives may also have played a role. Political commentators have suggested that Wilders and Rutte, who in the current polls are competing for the top spot, would not want to give other politicians the platform to attack them.
The affair initially led RTL to cancel the debate altogether, but then it decided to go ahead without them.
Another important feature is that the Netherlands is a country of coalitions.
There has never been a party that received an absolute majority of votes, so Wilders, who wants to become prime minister, would need coalition partners.
All traditional parties, including Rutte’s, have said they would not enter in a coalition government with Wilders.
That does not mean it that it will not happen. In 2012, Rutte and his centre-left opponent Diederik Samsom had framed the election campaign as if it was a two-way choice between them as prime minister.
This has led to voters casting strategic votes according to which of them they would want to have as prime minister.
According to a inquiry by the Volkskrant newspaper, even traditionally left-wing voters are now considering to vote for Rutte to prevent a Wilders becoming PM.
If the two draw away many votes from other parties, they could become so large that working together becomes inevitable – a repeat of the 2012 scenario.
While the largest party has traditionally been given the time to form a majority government, it is also not unprecedented that the party that comes out the winner ends up being left out in the cold.
In 1977, the centre-left Labour party came out of the elections triumphant, but the numbers two and three formed a coalition.
Of course, those were days in which two parties would have enough seats to form a majority.
If the current polls are anything to go by, it may take four or more parties to achieve a coalition. It also means that smaller parties may play the role of kingmakers.
Who are parties and their leaders? You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. I have included the predicted number of seats each party is likely to win, according to a 14 February 2017 De Stemming poll:
Party for Freedom (PVV)
Leader: Geert Wilders
Expected Seats: 26
The PVV is a far-right, anti-immigration party led by poorly-drawn fascist Geert Wilders, who has promised to ban Islam from the Netherlands, including mosques and the Koran. Wilders, a life support system for a pompadour, has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf and referred to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, as a “barbarian, a mass murderer, and a pedophile.” In December, Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination against Moroccans for leading a chant of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” at an election rally in 2014. The PVV is hostile to the European Union, promoting withdrawal from the EU and the restoration of the guilder as Dutch currency. It also wants to limit welfare benefits to people proficient in the Dutch language and who have lived in the Netherlands for a decade.
People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
Leader: Mark Rutte
Expected Seats: 23
The VVD is a center-right pro-business party led by the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte. They entered into a coalition with the Labour Party (see below) in the 1990s and oversaw the institution of your typical neoliberal policy prescriptions: privatizing state-owned assets, deregulating industries, slashing social services, etc. The 2008 financial crisis and subsequent Eurozone crisis only increased their fiscal conservatism – as well as economic unease for the poor and vulnerable groups who lost out under unfettered capitalism. But FREE MARKETS BABY!!! Rutte is so boring he’s the embodiment of the color beige, although he has been known to have a glass of wine now and again. He admitted that his mother still does his laundry for him.
Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)
Leader: Sybrand van Haersma Buma
Expected Seats: 18
The CDA is a centrist party that was long a major player in Dutch politics until its near collapse in 2010. This breakdown in occurred as there has been increasingly less ideological division between the major center-right and center-left parties. It also suffered because its leadership entered into an alliance with the more conservative VVD when most of its membership tend to be left-leaning on bourgeois issues like education and the environment. The party would generally like to see more restrictions placed on prostitution and soft drugs and tends to be pro-EU integration and welcoming toward immigrants. Their leader, Sybrand Buma, is descended from Frisian aristocracy and tends to look like he just smelled a big fart.
Democrats 66 (D66)
Leader: Alexander Pechtold
Expected Seats: 16
“I’d say I’m fiscally conservative but socially very liberal. The problems are bad but their causes…their causes are very good.” The D66 emerged in 1966 as part of an intellectual movement to make Dutch politics more democratic, and even today they ostensibly favor creating a unicameral legislature and directly electing the Prime Minister. Generally, however, the party has become a haven for well-to-do, highly educated professional people who are socially liberal on the issues that affect them: education, the environment, research and technology, and so on. They could emerge as important coalition partners along with the CDA in the upcoming election. Their leader is Alexander Pechtold, a master of the PR dark arts who has tried to ape Wilders’ populist tactics. Wilders recently tweeted a doctored photo of Pechtold at a Muslim rally. Of course, no self-respecting D66 member would be seen in the streets cavorting with plebeians.
Leader: Jesse Klaver
Expected Seats: 15
GroenLinks is the major green politics party, an odd amalgam of environmentalists, Christian socialists and communists led by a leader who is a mix of Justin Trudeau, Caroline Lucas and Bernie Sanders/Jill Stein. Obviously, ecology and animal rights are their unifying principles, but somewhat more vague what they mean by “shared prosperity” and “taking care of each other.” They are led by boy king Jesse Klaver, who wants to be Barack Obama so bad that he plagiarized him. The party has clearly invested a lot into creating a personality cult around Klaver and the result is that people either love him as a sincere idealist or hate him as a vacuous pop star.
Socialist Party (SP)
Leader: Emile Roemer
Expected Seats: 13
The anti-austerity, far-left Socialist Party has long sought to capitalize on the decline of the Labour Party, but so far has failed to make the breakthrough. This can be attributed to its start as an activist, grassroots party established in Marxism that has significantly moderated and even flirted with more moderate social democratic politics at the local and regional levels, alienating its rank-and-file membership. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be taken seriously as a governing partner by the more neoliberal parties if it considered too extreme. Its leader, Emile Roemer, is warm, cuddly and nicknamed “Fozzie Bear” – also because he is a bad joke.
Labour Party (PvdA)
Leader: Lodewijk Asscher
Expected Seats: 12
Originally the party of the Dutch labor movement and the trade unions, the Labour Party has, like so many of its contemporaries across Europe, become an ardent proponent of deconstructing the old social democratic consensus. From the 1990s to the present, the party has entered into coalitions with more right-wing parties, further diluting whatever claim to left-wing principles it may have once had. Its base is working class, skeptical of globalization and immigration, while its leadership is a haughty cosmopolitan technical elite. Once the premier center-left party, it is now headed to political extinction. Its latest in a long line of unappealing leaders is Lodewijk Asscher, the minister for social affairs and employment as well as deputy prime minister, meaning he is leading the party in opposition to the neoliberal reforms he himself designed and implemented. Irony!
Leader: Henk Krol
Expected Seats: 10
Not a mature porn Web site. All those old, angry retirees who want you to get off their lawn got together and formed a political party. They are opposed to austerity, but only so far as it affects them: they really want the retirement age moved back to 65. “Imagine if your roommate made you watch a movie and left ten minutes into it. Dick move, right? My point is old people shouldn’t get to vote.” Their leader is sleazy journalist and publisher Henk Krol, who resigned from the House in 2013 when it came out that Krol withheld pension money from his employees at a gay lifestyle magazine.
Christian Union (CU)
Leader: Gert-Jan Segers
Expected Seats: 6
The CU describes itself as a “social Christian” party, meaning they hate abortions but like the welfare state. They believe in the nice, merciful God from the Bible who died for your sins and loves you, but doesn’t want you to have control over your own body or have any fun whatsoever. They tend to be somewhat skeptical of integration with the European Union but are not generally hostile to immigrants. Their leader, Gert-Jan Segers, is a pious egg.
Party for the Animals (PvdD)
Leader: Marianne Thieme
Expected Seats: 6
A single-issue animal rights party, the Party for the Animals claims not to be a single issue party, even though they are. They have no illusions of entering into government but seek to influence legislation by holding seats in the House. Their leader is Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian Marianne Thieme, who ends all her speeches by saying, “Voorts zijn wij van mening dat er een einde moet komen aan de bio-industrie” (“Furthermore we are of the opinion that factory farming has to be ended”) in imitation of Cato the Elder concluding all his speeches by calling for the destruction of Rome’s rival Carthage. They have gained some respect because they stick to their positions on the issues they care about rather than trying to change for electoral success.
Reformed Political Party (SGP)
Leader: Kees van der Staaij
Expected Seats: 4
Unlike the CU, the SGP believes that God is angry because not everyone is a Calvinist. They believe in a government totally based on the Bible and eschew participation in cabinet. They are not only strongly opposed to abortion but to feminism and universal suffrage in general, and only put forward male candidates. They are not so pro-life that they oppose the death penalty, but since most people in the Netherlands do, the SGP advocates that “people suspected of serious crimes, such as terrorism, should be extradited to countries where the death penalty exists.” Party leader and constitutional law expert Kees van der Staaij is probably not very fun at parties.
Leaders: Selçuk Öztürk and Tunahan Kuzu
Expected Seats: 1
DENK was formed by two former Labour MPs, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, after they were expelled for criticizing Lodewijk Asscher, the minister for social affairs and fellow Labour MP (now the Labour leader). Asscher announced that the government would be monitoring a number of Turkish groups in the Netherlands for “strengthening of the Turkish-Islamic identity” which could lead to a “departure from Dutch customs, norms and values.” Kuzu and Öztürk accused Asscher of promoting exclusion rather than inclusion since the groups were not doing anything illegal. DENK is basically a two-man band promoting basic center-left policies but with an emphasis on opposing racism and appealing to naturalized immigrants who feel threatened by the xenophobia in Dutch politics. Kuzu made international news in September 2016 when he refused to shake the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a display of opposition to “the abuse of Palestinian civilians living under Israeli military rule.”
http://www.volkskrant.nl/politiek/ — Politics section of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (in Dutch)
https://www.trouw.nl/democratie — Politics section of the Dutch newspaper Trouw (in Dutch)
http://nltimes.nl/categories/politics — English-language Dutch politics news site
http://www.dutchnews.nl/category/politics/ — Another English-language Dutch news resource
https://medium.com/@endeeh — A Medium writer writing about the Dutch election, whose best material I have shamelessly stolen