Who won the Dutch elections?
The day before the election I was having lunch with two Dutch politicians and a political commentator. They were hoping that the outcome would allow them to form a coalition of the centre-left excluding both Rutte and Wilders from government. I was puzzled. “How can you form a government that excludes the two largest parties?” I asked. Their response: “Nobody will work with Wilders. And if Rutte remains the largest party, he will still lose a bunch of seats. So he will have lost not won in the election.”
So who actually ‘won’ the election? The reality is that the Dutch voted for change with different voters voting for a different kind of change. But change nevertheless.
The two parties of government both lost votes and seats. Labour suffered the fate of almost every junior coalition partner – it was nearly wiped out. Mark Rutte’s VVD retained its place as the largest party in parliament – but it lost 20% of its seats.
Geert Wilders’ PVV showed a 33% gain – by some measures hardly a rejection of populism.
The other two gainers were the conservative Christian Democrats (+46%) and the Liberal D66 (+58%). However, by far the biggest gains were registered by the GreenLeft with their charismatic, young, new leader Jesse Klaver – the Jessiah as some have christened him.
The Dutch proportional representation system with no minimum threshold makes for a fragmented parliament and this one is the most fragmented ever. It is a system that allows the Dutch people to vote for those they best identify with without feeling that their vote might be wasted. Maybe only the Dutch could ever possibly form a stable government out of such a fragmented parliament. But it does give a pretty good picture of the state of the nation and the mood of the voters.
The GreenLeft clearly touched a chord – and mainly among the young. Klaver is no stayed, establishment politician. He is a breath of fresh air in what could be considered a pretty grey Dutch political landscape. He is unabashedly pro-European.
The other big pro-European gains came for the liberal D66 which now holds joint third place in terms of number of seats.
The VVD and the Christian Democrats, on the other hand, have both recently adopted a more, shall we say, Euro-cautious tones in their campaign. Rutte has been stressing the need to bring back powers from Brussels and to limit immigration. His spat with Turkey in the week before the election gave him a fillip in the polls – and the eventual votes.
Of course the PVV remains the extreme xenophobic party it has always been.
It is true that the PVV has not been handed the victory of being the largest party in parliament. Even if it had, it would have not formed a government. However, to interpret the election result as a victory for Rutte and the status quo is to misread the mood. There is a hunger for change. Some have expressed that by voting for the young Klaver or the pro-EU D66. Others have turned more conservative and plumped for the CDA. Wilders has gained 33% and the VVD has hung on as the largest party. In Dutch politics, unlike the UK, there is a political outlet for everyone, whatever their views.