Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party have been on a steady rise in Dutch politics in recent years, driven by rising poverty and fear of the effects of immigration. A path that finally makes them the predominant space: they obtained 37 seats for the Dutch congress (out of 150 seats), and will be the largest bloc, ahead of the conservative People’s Party of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte (24 deputies) and the coalition left-wing Labor-Green (25 seats).
“We will make sure that Holland is once again for the Dutch. We will restrict the tsunami of asylum and migration. “People will have more money in their wallets again,” he promised after the Wilders celebration. In the past, the Party for Freedom (PVV) won seats in the national and European parliaments, but never managed to win elections: the recent landslide victory marks a surprising turn of the tide.
Preaching. Anti-Islam and anti-EU rhetoric have historically been pillars of Wilders’ agenda. This proved too marginal to Dutch public opinion when he became spokesperson for the People’s Party in 2002: he was at the same time removed from office. But anti-Muslim sentiment has increased since then, especially after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004. His film “Submission” portrayed Islam as a religion that encouraged violence against women. The attacker, Mohammed Bouyeri, was a Dutch Moroccan, and his case divided the country: “the murder that shattered the liberal dream of Holland,” The Guardian newspaper described it.
And certainly since then, progressivism has been on the decline in the most progressive country in Europe.
So much so that today the PVV is halfway to the 76 needed to form a majority that will allow it to become a government. One marked by the extreme right.
The result is “a huge surprise,” said Sarah de Lange, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, who tweeted after the election: “What just happened in the Netherlands?” The Dutch have one of the most proportional and fragmented multi-party systems in the world, meaning it is difficult to form a coalition, and there is no voting for a prime minister either.
Government. To form a majority, something the Parliamentary website describes as “a complex and exciting process,” political party leaders appoint a representative to begin negotiations.
If there is a potential alliance, the next prime minister concludes the talks, dividing the cabinet and ministerial positions according to the parties’ number of seats and their policy preferences. They sign a coalition agreement, typically as thick as a Charles Dickens novel, present their plans in parliament and receive a vote of confidence. It sounds simple. But is not. The last government took a record 299 days to form.
In this case, the alliance seems especially thorny. For the first time, Wilders has the largest party and declares that he “can no longer be ignored,” but it is by no means clear whether he will be able to gain enough support to form a coalition. However, it is also unclear whether the other parties can exclude the PVV as they did in previous elections, when the party came in second or third place.
Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, leader of the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), has said he will not be part of a government under a man he considers divisive, saying on election night: “I said “I don’t see that happening because Mr. Wilders cannot form a majority.” The ball is in Wilders’ court, who really needs the VVD and its 24 seats, given the negative logic of the left-wing bloc – led by Frans Timmermans – to accompany him in the formation of a new government.
Alliance. Another key player is Pieter Omtzigt, leader of the centre-right New Social Contract party.
During the campaign he also ruled out working with Wilders due to his unconstitutional plans to ban Islamic schools, mosques and the Koran. But on election night, Omtzigt seemed to adopt a more dialogue-friendly tone: “We are available to govern. This is a difficult result. “We will soon discuss how we can best contribute.”
A coalition of the PVV, VVD, and NSC would have about 81 seats combined, but whether it is possible is another question. Only if Wilders fails to form a coalition could other spaces try to form a new government. But a left alliance, in opposition to the trend at the polls, seems practically impossible.
“Government formation is actually a black box for voters,” explains Matthijs Rooduijn, associate professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam. “And since it is impossible to vote directly or indirectly for political leaders, some voters are noticeably frustrated with politics,” he adds.
In the interim, outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte will lead the country with current ministers. A paradox: these periods of interim government, ignoring the result at the polls, are the most calm, orderly and prosperous