Even though elections all have their own particular dynamics, commentators looked to the Ides of March Dutch election as an indicator of how high the nationalist and populist tide was rising in Europe.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) not only held power but lost fewer seats to insurgent Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) than recent polls projected. Turnout was high: 82%, compared with 75% in the last parliamentary election.
Wilders was toning down his anti-EU message going into the polling, suggesting that he read voters as hesitant to embrace radical change. Rutte appears to have cut into Wilders’ support by taking a harder line on immigration. And the dust-up with Turkey over Erdogan’s ministers seeking to campaign to Turkish expats over a Constitutional referendum also appears to have helped the establishment.
Further reports, first from Politico:
Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) was projected to win 32 seats, nine fewer than at the last election in 2012. Wilders’ anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) was in a race for second place with two other parties. He was predicted to end up with 19 seats, up four on last time.
The other contenders for second place, the Christian Democrats and the liberal D66 party, both made gains…
The Labor Party (PvdA), Rutte’s junior coalition partner, faced the biggest electoral loss in its history. It was forecast to win just 10 seats — down from 38 last time. The GreenLeft party posted a spectacular advance, going from four seats to 14 in the 150-member lower house of parliament.
The vote was widely seen as the first major electoral test of right-wing populism since Britain’s Brexit referendum and U.S. President Donald Trump’s election victory last year…
…[The] result prompted sighs of relief from European governments. “Large majority of Dutch voters have rejected anti European populists. That’s good news,” the German Foreign Ministry declared on Twitter. “We need you for a strong #Europe!”…
Rutte last week called upon voters to “stop the domino-effect” of populism. However, the prime minister also sounded some populist notes in his own campaign. In an advert published in Dutch newspapers, he said people should leave the Netherlands if they rejected the country’s values.
From the Wall Street Journal:
The outcome suggests that Dutch voters have elected a highly fragmented lower house of parliament, containing numerous midsize parties but no big ones. This could mean lengthy negotiations on forming a new coalition government. To stay on as premier, Mr. Rutte may have to woo at least three other parties. His last coalition partner, the Labor Party, suffered heavy losses.
The Dutch premier has portrayed the election as the quarterfinal round in Europe’s effort to stem a populist tide, with the French presidential elections in April and May the semifinal and the German parliamentary elections in September the finals. Polls in France suggest that anti-Islam right-wing politician Marine Le Pen will win next month’s first round of voting, qualifying her for a two-candidate runoff. In Germany, where the influx of more than a million refugees and migrants since 2015, has rattled the country’s political scene, the nationalist Alternative for Germany is projected to enter the national parliament for the first time.
In a sign of the Netherlands’ growing political fragmentation, several niche or single-issue parties also made gains, including the pensioners’ party 50Plus and the animal-welfare movement Party for the Animals to Denk, an upstart pro-Muslim party seeking to counter Mr. Wilders.
Any new coalition government is likely to enact stricter rules on migrants’ benefits and rights, as parties across most of the political spectrum campaigned on such promises. Although Mr. Wilders’s party made only small gains, his challenge appears to have shifted much of Dutch politics to the right.
And from the Financial Times:
The projected victory was welcomed by moderates and pro-EU politicians across Europe and has calmed their fears that the continent was poised to fall under the sway of nationalists following the UK’s Brexit vote and the election of President Donald Trump in the US…
Mr Rutte hailed the forecast result as an example of voters saying “no to the wrong sort of populism”…
While Mr Wilders’ PVV has had a comfortable lead in polls for much of the past year, voters blanched at the prospect of backing the party at the ballot box. Although 20 seats would be a small improvement on its performance in 2012, it would be fewer than it gained in 2010….
European leaders were effusive in response to an initial exit poll that gave Mr Rutte a clear lead. Paolo Gentiloni, Italian prime minister, tweeted: “No Nexit. The anti-EU right has lost the Dutch elections. Now a common commitment to change and relaunch the Union.”
I’d very much appreciate getting reader reactions, particularly those from France, as to whether and how much the establishment success in beating back Wilders is a precedent for other European elections this year. Current polls show Marine Le Pen having a seemingly insurmountable gap between her and Macron in a second-round faceoff. While the Dutch results may not hurt her, they certainly can’t help.