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What's at stake in the Netherlands' elections?
In this weeks election, voters in Holland have to try and make sense of promises made by 28 parties and choose their future against a backdrop of a violent diplomatic dispute with Turkey, growing irritation with the EU, and increasingly populist politics worldwide.
Unlike France there is no second round voting in Holland. The result: eternal cohabitation.
For decades, Dutch politics was dominated by the Christen Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democrats), Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labor), the party for Vrede, Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, Liberal Party) and Democraten ’66 (D’66, Center Democrats).
Since the 1980’s various coalitions of these, and smaller, parties have formed cabinets, culminating in the “Polder model” where VVD and PvdA would rule together.
But today, the Dutch political landscape is shattered. The change started with populist Pim Fortuyn’s Lijst Pim Fortuyn (“List Pim Fortuyn”) which used an anti-immigrant platform and attacked the established order.
Elections that took place months after his murder by an animal rights activist in 2002 resulted in a massive victory for his party.
The Lijst Pim Fortuyn imploded after its leader was gone. But the ideas of the far right were carried on by former VVD member Geert Wilders, a protégé of European Commissioner Frits Bolkestein.
Wilders and his Partij Voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Freedom Party) are staunchly against the Dutch policy of integration, multiculturalism and his anti-immigration remarks were supported by a growing number of voters which resulted in 15 seats for the PVV after the 2012 parliamentary elections.
On March 15, 28 parties will contest 150 seats in the parliamentary elections.
The range from four establishment parties and the PVV to the strong – performing Groen Links (“Green Left”); PvdA’s nemesis the Socialistische Partij (“Socialist Party”); small parties supported by the Christian right; fringe parties like Geen Peil (“No Poll”), that was responsible for organizing the referendum against the trade association agreement with Ukraine in 2016; the pro-Turkish Denk (“Think”); a Pirate Party, a party for non-voters and one-issue parties such as 50Plus (focusing on the elderly), the Ondernemerspartij (Party for Entrepreneurs) and the Partij voor de Dieren (“Animal Party”).
After the official results on March 20, the Dutch King will ask the party leader of the biggest party to form a new government. If Wilders wins, it is unlikely that other parties will join him in a coalition as they have ruled out any form of cooperation. In that case the leader of the second biggest party will try to form a coalition.
Some of the players to follow this week:
Mark Rutte (50, VDD) Incumbent Prime Minister and party leader. Pro EU. Lead the VVD to 41 seats at the 2012 elections, the largest amount ever in the history of the party, but lost much in the polls to Wilders. Currently leading the polls with 24 seats. Strong arm politics against Turkey in cancelling the visit of Turkey’s Foreign Minister and expulsion of the Turkish Family Affairs minister after their plans to come to Holland to campaign for Turkish-Dutch citizens regarding a Turkish referendum on constitutional change, gained him approval from almost the whole political spectrum.
Geert Wilders (53, PVV), anti EU, critic of Islam, anti-immigration, critic of Turkey, linked up with Front National’s Marine le Pen and Alternatieve für Deutschland’s Frauke Petry. As a result of threats has to travel with bodyguards. Stopped campaigning after he suspected one of his bodyguards had given information about his whereabouts to a Moroccan criminal group, and re-started campaigning late. Lost his leading position in the polls to last week to Rutte’s VVD. Currently 15 seats in parliament.
Jesse Klaver (30, Groen Links). Son of a Moroccan mother and an Indian mother, nicknamed the “Justin Trudeau” of the polder, young flamboyant, awarded the prize for Political Talent of the Year 2010 by the Dutch press. Performs strongly in the polls and has a joint list with the PvdA. Says he is a “flexitarian,” meaning that he eats meat only three times a week. Currently 4 seats in Parliament.
Lodewijck Asscher (42, PvdA). Currently Deputy Prime Minister under Rutte. Faces a dramatically declining support in the polls, but a joint list with Klavers’ Groen Links may give him a last lifeline. Currently 38 seats.
Tunahan Kuzu (35, Denk) Istanbul-born chairman of pro-Turkish two-man party Denk (“Think”). Left the PvdA in 2014 after disagreement over integration policy, establishing his own party representing part of the 400.000 strong Turkish community in the Netherlands. Fierce opponent of Wilders’ PVV called a pied-a-terre for Turkish president Recep Erdogan’s AKP party in the Netherlands. The Dutch-Turkish controversy over the cancellation of the visit of two ministers has strengthened Denk’s position in the opinion polls. Currently 2 seats.