Defeat of the far-right candidate in Dutch general elections

The elections were a test for the rise of far-right — but is it really the end of populism in Europe?

By: Manon Busseron

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party won the general elections held in the Netherlands on Wednesday, March 15. These elections were particularly important in the current European context, marked by the migratory crisis and the rise of far-right parties.

A measure of far-right movements’ popularity

Dutch citizens went to the polls to elect their new House of Representatives. 28 parties were competing for 150 seats. The voting process used is proportional representation, which means that if no party reaches a majority of 76 seats, the main parties will form a coalition and choose the candidate of the leading party to become Prime Minister.

This election was perceived as a way to measure the rise of far-right parties in the European Union. Indeed, the Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, was aiming to become leader in Parliament. His anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and anti-European opinions have echoed the discourses of Marine Le Pen (French leader of the National Front) and Frauke Petry (German leader of Alternative for Germany), when presidential and general elections are to be held in both countries.

The defeat of the far-right party

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (centre-right) won 33 seats at Parliament, which means Rutte will probably remain in office after having formed a coalition with some other parties in the next weeks.

Although Wilders did not lead in the polls, he still reached second place with 20 seats, clearly behind the VVD, but winning 5 seats more compared to the last elections in 2012.

Christian Democratic Appeal (Christian-right) and Democrats 66 (centre-left) arrived in third place with 19 seats per party.

The other surprise of these elections was the rise of GroenLinks (green-left) led by the popular, “Dutch Trudeau“ Jesse Klaver, which won 16 seats — four times more than in the 2012 elections.

A victory against populism?

Many European countries welcomed the results with relief. German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised “a very pro-European result,” whereas European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker considered that Dutch voted for “free and tolerant societies in a prosperous Europe.”

However, Wilders’ defeat should be treated cautiously. First of all, every other party refused to form a coalition with him, which means that Wilders would have been isolated even if he had led the elections. His becoming Prime Minister would thus have been very unlikely without a coalition to support him —unless he had won the majority of 76 seats.

Secondly, even if he failed to reach first place, Wilders managed to impose the themes of Islam and immigration during the campaign, promising “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands, the closure of mosques, and the ban of Qur’an (which he compared to Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography). Dutch national identity was also a major theme in the campaign. Indeed, as a way to attract far-right voters, Prime Minister Rutte published an open letter to Dutch citizens, saying that those who “refuse to adapt and criticize our values” should “behave normally or go away.”

Nonetheless, these themes were overshadowed at the end of the campaign by the diplomatic crisis with Turkey. Indeed, Turkish ministers seeking the Turkish community’s support in the referendum about reinforcing presidential powers were denied entrance to the Netherlands and the meetings were cancelled. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reacted by calling Dutch governments “Nazis” and “fascists.” Prime Minister Rutte has remained firm and unwavering, which is likely to have worked in his favor for the elections.

Although Dutch electoral outcomes saw the defeat of the rising far-right party, populism is far from behind extinguished in Europe. The upcoming elections in France and Germany might not follow the same path.

With files from The Guardian, BBC, Le Monde, Reuters, and The Telegraph