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Holland shifts to the centre and stops populism – for the time being. A fragmented Chamber and an uphill struggle to form the government

Outgoing Premier Rutte’s VVD Party gained the most seats, with Geert Wilders’ xenophobic far-Right PVV trailing closely behind but failing to achieve the electoral victory with his anti-EU proposals. Good results for the Christian Democrats, Left-winged Liberals, and the Greens. High turnout at the polls. So many parties sitting in Parliament will make it hard for the executive to reach an agreement. The opinion of Daniëlle Woestenberg, senior Advisor for Church-State relations at the Dutch Bishops’ Conference

Strasburgo, 20 gennaio: Mark Rutte interviene nell'aula del Parlamento europeo (foto SIR/PE)

Mark Rutte succeeded for the third time. That part of Europe that was afraid to witness the triumph of populist leader Geert Wilders took a breath of relief and welcomed with pleasure the victory of the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) that gained 33 seats at the new Dutch Parliament. However, it’s a relative success, considering that compared to 2012 Rutte’s Liberals lost 8 seats, while their main antagonist, the Freedom Party (PVV), won 20 seats, 5 more than in the previous legislature. In fact, Wilders today has been tweeting his satisfaction for having become the second Party in The Netherlands, supported by over one million voters.

Winners and losers. The Labour Party – PVDA – the centre-left party in Rutte’s coalition government, is the greatest loser, sinking from 38 to nine seats, thus hitting a historical low in the life of this party. The Christian-Democrat Appeal – CDA – gained 19 seats, 6 more compared to the 2012 vote, along with the Left-wing Liberals D66, that gained 7 more seats.

A win was scored also by Jesse Klaver’s GroenLinks jumping from 4 to 14 seats

SP Socialists remain on track with 14 seats, followed by Christian Union (ChristenUnie, 5 seats) and by the conservatives of the Reformed Political Party (SGP) with three seats. Consensus increased also for the Pro-animal Party (Partij voor de Dieren), 5 seats, (+3), while 2 MPs will be representing the 50plus pensioner Party. The novelty of the next legislature is the entry of the Denk Party, founded in 2015 by two MPs of Turkish descent thrown out of the Labour Party, calling for a Country that is more welcoming and tolerant towards non-Dutch natives, and of the Forum voor Democratie (respectively with 3 and 2 seats.) The remaining 15 Parties gained no seat. A majority of young citizens (25 to 35) voted for Rutte’s VVD, the D66 Party, GroenLinks, followed by PVV, Christen Unie, CDA and SP.

The meaning of the high turnout. As many as 82% of those eligible to vote went to the polls, many more than expected, to the point that in many cities, such as The Hague and Nijmegen, polls remained open till after 9 PM. As reported by deVolkskrant, in some cases ballot papers were lost and voters had to go to a different poll. “The turnout was unexpectedly high. Also the Dutch bishops”, in a message released ten days before the election, “called upon the population to go to the polls. We are happy to see that people have actually participated in this election”, Daniëlle Woestenberg, Senior Advisor for Church-State relations at the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, told SIR.

While Europe was hoping for it but didn’t expect it, for the Netherlands it came as a half-surprise.

“Wilders attracted many voters. His Party is now the second in the Country, which cannot be ignored.” But what is most surprising is that “the majority voted for Centre parties”, Woestenberg remarked. She explained: after the murder of Pim Fortuy in 2002, “a large part of Dutch society drifted either to the Right or to the Left. But today they chose the Centre.” In fact the Christian Democrats of D66, as well as the centre-left Greens, obtained good results. “This shows that we’re not as radical as some journalists describe us. Holland remains a reasonable Country, with no extremisms. We are not the U.S. and we don’t have a two-party system. In The Netherlands it’s possible to become Prime Minister with only 20% of the vote.”

It will be hard to form a coalition. The Dutch press has started to prospect the coalition that Rutte is called to form with CDA and D66 “but those three Parties together lack the numbers for a majority, so they will need to pull in a fourth or fifth Party. Talks on the government coalition could last a long time, and it will be hard to find a common ground.” For sure, all Parties have rejected the possibility of governing with Wilders, “which voters were informed of since the beginning of the campaign”, Woestenberg pointed out.

His one million voters may represent fear and protest against the establishment, but they are conveyed support to Wilders’ public welfare proposals.

Another interesting aspect, Daniëlle Woestenberg pointed out, is that “Denk, an Islamic Party, gained 8-9% of the vote in large cities. We don’t know what developments there could be in that respect. It’s Wilders’ counterparty. Denk represents the immigrant community that doesn’t feel welcomed or taken seriously.” For Woestenberg Christian Democrats’ good election results, along with Rutte’s victory, is a positive sign, in strictly Catholic terms. The D66 Party, a renowned supporter of the pro-euthanasia campaign, remains a question mark. “We will have to see how the coalition will come together on these themes.”

Europe’s reactions

Outside The Netherlands the election results were received with great enthusiasm. “My heartfelt congratulations to Mark Rutte for his clear victory against extremism”, tweeted this morning French President Françoise Hollande; his words were echoed soon after by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and by Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker, personally congratulated Premier Rutte over the phone. “Europe is the greatest winner of Holland’s election”, wrote editor-in-chief of Allgemeine Zeitung in an op-ed, “despite the fragmentation characterizing the multi-party system of The Netherlands, citizens turned out in high numbers to keep radicalism and extremism at bay. After Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, and most of all, ahead of France’s presidential election, this is a wonderful result.”

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