This March, the Dutch people will vote for a new government. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) has been steadily leading in the polls for months. Many people worldwide hope for a continuation of the popular freedom movement that won in the UK and USA elections. The Dutch election will be the next test of that political force in Europe, followed by the French and Germans. What will be the consequence of these elections for the European Union if it does happen?
To clarify the answers, we need to understand how the Dutch political election system works.
The Dutch parliament is called the Tweede Kamer (States General Chamber) and has a total of 150 seats. There are many political parties in Dutch parliament; some are relatively new, such as the Freedom Party (Wilders), DENK (in English) and the Forum for Democracy.
Older parties are more traditional, such as the VVD (the party of the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte). That one is a more conservative party on the right. The Dutch Labour Party is the PvdA. There is also the CDA, the Christian Democrats, who have been very successful in the past, but have now been in the opposition for the last four years.
The 150 seats in parliament are divided by the percentage of votes each political party receives. So in order to win one seat, a small party must have a large enough, but small, share of the total vote. Mathematically, that means that any party whose candidates collectively win 0.67% of the total vote will be guaranteed a seat. So then, many single seats might be held by many separate small parties and Independents. The result is a very divided parliament, as we have seen over the past decade.
Currently there are as many as seventeen political parties or groups in the Dutch parliament. This high division also happens because once elected, a member of parliament remains through the elected term, but may leave the political party he or she was elected to represent, and then start his or her own group, or become an independent in parliament. This last option is how Wilders – elected as a member of the VVD in order to win one seat – left that party and then started his own Group Wilders, and then formed the Freedom Party for the next election. The two members of DENK were both members of parliament for the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) before they left and formed their own party.
In the Dutch system, two or more leading parties will cooperate as a simple majority of seats to form a Government, and the rest become Opposition Parties. Mark Rutte’s first administration in October 2010 was formed with the Christian Democrats, but between them they still did not have enough seats in parliament for a 50% ruling majority. So Ruttte’s VVD and the CDA then sought an alliance with Wilders and his Freedom Party, to ensure passage of the Government’s bills, over the opposition.
But in 2012, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party left that failed coalition, and there were new elections held. Since then, the relationship between Prime Minister Rutte and Geert Wilders has been rather cold and unfriendly. Rutte has often declared that he does not trust them anymore, and he has called Wilders a runaway. Recently in the news programme ‘Buitenhof’ Rutte stated that he will never again work together with the Freedom Party.
Besides Rutte’s declaration, the other political parties have almost all said that they will never form a coalition with the Freedom Party, because of Wilders’ outspoken views on the problems of Islam’s failed integration in The Netherlands.
Another problem for Wilders is his criminal case. It began when Wilders asked his audience in the city of The Hague whether they wanted more or less people from Moroccan descent. After the crowd made it clear they wanted less Moroccans in their town, with the chant, “less, less, less,” Wilders was quoted as saying, “Well, then we shall arrange that.”
The resulting trial prosecution against Wilders led to the court of justice declaration that Wilders was guilty of inciting discrimination (although he will not be sentenced).
What does all this mean for the elections that will be held on March seventeenth in The Netherlands? Well, first, Wilders is steadily leading in the polls for months now. Many Dutch people say that if there is a terrorist attack in The Netherlands before March, Wilders’ numbers will go even higher.
But however big his victory might be, a simple ruling majority of 50% is mathematically improbable. And if there is no political party that wants to form a government with him, it is not likely that Wilders will be the next Dutch Prime Minister.
An open question might be whether Wilders has wider, but unspoken support, of many who will vote for him anyway. That is not a very likely scenario, because many on the Left in The Netherlands rebuke Wilders as a threat to Dutch society. He is compared in the press to Hitler, Goebbels, the Nazi’s, etc., at least weekly. The bigger his rise in the polls, the worse these allegations become.
It is still quite possible that Gilders and his Freedom Party will win the leading vote. But it would not be the first time in Dutch political history that the party which wins the election will not be able to form a coalition Government administration.
But in that result, many voters will feel that their votes are not respected, again. We have recently seen that already, when the Government ignored the clear Dutch voters’ “No” vote on the referendum on the EU-Ukraine trade agreement. (For which, by the way, the Forum for Democracy has put the Prime Minister on trial) The resentment of the alienated Dutch taxpayers against the establishment elite will only grow. This all might lead to the build-up of tensions in The Netherlands, with no clear way out at the moment. Indeed, these coming months will be very interesting to watch, to see if the voters will head this country toward freedom, or to a continuation of collectivism and Islamization.
(Sonja in The Netherlands is a new contributor on our LUTF team. She explains what Dutch voters can expect for freedom in her homeland, after the victories of Brexit in the UK, and Donald Trump in the USA.)