An unprecedented victory for the PVV – and what next?

The Rutte era ends with a right-wing populist revolt that shakes the Binnenhof to its foundations. The historic election victory that the PVV achieved on Wednesday exceeded all expectations. According to the Ipsos exit poll, the PVV doubles in seats and rises to 35 seats. The PVV will therefore be by far the largest party in the new House of Representatives.

GroenLinks-PvdA scored 25 seats in the exit poll and may therefore become the second party, followed by the VVD, which will suffer a major defeat and may lose approximately ten seats. NSC, Pieter Omtzigt’s new party, makes a spectacular entrance into parliament with approximately twenty seats.

The PVV’s monster victory is much greater than the final polls just before election day had suggested. Wilders’ party has been on a steady rise in recent weeks, but was approximately equal with the VVD and GroenLinks-PvdA in the latest polls.

This unexpectedly good result for the PVV actually makes it inconceivable that Wilders’ party will not get the chance to at least try to form a right-wing coalition. Wilders himself said this on Wednesday, half an hour after the exit poll. “The voter has spoken, the PVV can no longer be ignored.”

The PVV sets a new seat record in the House of Representatives, the previous best performance was winning 24 seats in 2010. The explanation for the great success of the PVV seems to lie in Wilders’ strong TV performances in the final phase of the campaign . He showed a milder version of himself in interviews and indicated that he would be willing to shelve his anti-Islamic proposals in the coming years, such as a ban on mosques and the Koran.

Important theme

Now that asylum and migration was an important issue for many voters, Wilders seems to have benefited from this. The PVV has been the ‘issue owner’ on this subject for a long time, and seems to have received the right-wing protest vote en masse, while Caroline van der Plas’s BBB succeeded in this at the Provincial Council elections in March of this year. The radical right flank is growing in number of seats compared to 2021, especially if BBB is included as a populist right-wing party.

The result is a source of great dismay about the situation in which outgoing Prime Minister Rutte leaves the Netherlands. The parties that formed the resigned Rutte IV are suffering unprecedented losses. The VVD loses about ten seats, which is in line with the historical law that the party of the outgoing prime minister usually suffers a major defeat.

The liberals will probably be scratching their heads about their campaign strategy: since VVD party leader Dilan Yesilgöz decided in August to no longer exclude the PVV, Wilders started a slow rise in the polls. Although many VVD voters are happy with cooperation with the PVV, Yesilgöz remained vague throughout the campaign about whether she wants to be in a cabinet with the PVV. Right-wing voters seem to have chosen Wilders en masse to enforce this.

Omtzigt was explicitly in favor of governing in his first response

Despite the PVV’s win, coalition formation will not be easy. A right-wing cabinet of PVV, VVD and NSC has a majority, but Yesilgöz said on Tuesday that he did not want to be in a coalition under Prime Minister Wilders, and Omtzigt previously excluded the PVV because of its anti-rule of law positions. It is uncertain whether VVD and NSC can maintain these positions. Wilders immediately called on these parties to “jump over their shadows”. According to Wilders, the PVV is prepared “to look for agreements within the framework of the constitution.”

The NSC van Omtzigt is delivering a unique achievement with this entrance into the House of Representatives. Only the LPF ever won more seats as a new party (26 in 2002). Omtzigt spoke of “a great result” and in his first response on Wednesday was explicitly in favor of governing, and no longer clearly excluded the PVV. He used the same terms as Wilders and said that parties must “step over their shadows” and also said: “It will not be easy, but the Netherlands must be governed and we are available for that.”

VVD leader Yesilgöz was more cautious and did not want to say whether the VVD now wants to join a right-wing cabinet. “It’s not up to us now. The voter has spoken clearly, we will now have to see how Wilders will handle this.”

VVD party leader Dilan Yesilgöz: “The lead is not ours now.”
Photo Yves Herman

In terms of content, a right-wing coalition of VVD, PVV and NSC will not be easy either. The parties agree on the desire to significantly limit migration to the Netherlands and, given their election manifestos, may be prepared to push the limits of European obligations. Collaboration is much more complicated on many other issues, especially between the VVD and PVV.

For example, the VVD has supported an ambitious climate policy in recent years, while Wilders’ party writes in the program that climate policy must be “put through the shredder” because it is “unaffordable madness”. They also differ on continued support for Ukraine: the VVD attaches great importance to this, the PVV is critical of it.

Disappointment on the left

On the left, the collaboration between GroenLinks and PvdA has resulted in seat gains, but the shock over the PVV’s win is great. Frans Timmermans’ mission failed: he came from Brussels to become Prime Minister of the Netherlands. In his first reaction, Timmermans said that he is “disappointed” with the result and that he had “hoped for much more”.

The leader of GroenLinks-PvdA called on his party members to stand up for Dutch people with a migration background who no longer feel safe in the Netherlands due to the PVV’s win. “Now has come the hour when we must defend democracy.” Denk party leader Stephan van Baarle, whose party remains the same on three seats according to the exit poll, called the PVV win “an outright threat to one million Muslims.”

List leader Frans Timmermans from GroenLinks-PvdA: “I need you tonight.”
Photo Olivier Middendorp

For D66, the adage ‘to govern is to halve’ again applies. The party loses more than half of the seats and comes to ten according to the exit poll. While D66 under Sigrid Kaag managed to make a significant profit in 2021 after participating in government, the party is now losing many seats again. Yet the party remains potentially relevant for coalition formation. If a cabinet with the PVV turns out not to be possible, according to the exit poll, a four-party cabinet through the middle is possible. GroenLinks-PvdA, VVD, NSC and D66 together obtain almost eighty seats.

The defeat of the CDA in particular is historic. The time when the Christian Democrats were an obvious power factor in the Binnenhof seems to be over. In the late 1980s, the CDA under Ruud Lubbers peaked with 54 seats, and until 2012 the party always scored above twenty seats. Now, according to the exit poll, the CDA has dropped to five seats and is below ten seats for the first time in its existence. The new party leader Henri Bontenbal, who has a lot of sympathy within and outside the party, has not been able to reverse the decline in the polls in a few months.

The result for BBB is disappointing. Caroline van der Plas’s party won the provincial elections by a landslide in March and at the time had above thirty seats in polls for the House of Representatives. Now, according to the exit poll, there are seven left. Although this is an increase compared to 2021, it is much less than the 25 seats that the party thought it could achieve. BBB ran an unfortunate campaign and may have suffered greatly from the rise of NSC in particular.

The SP again loses seats and suffers its eighth election defeat in a row. For party leader Lilian Marijnissen, it is her umpteenth defeat and second serious defeat in the House of Representatives elections, which raises the question of whether she will be able to continue. She did not provide a definitive answer on Wednesday evening.