The world is hungrily watching the Netherlands’ 2017 elections.

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The 2017 Dutch general election will occur tomorrow and it should come as no surprise that the world is watching. The Dutch political landscape is quite different to those in Britain and the US so counter-culture spectators who hotly anticipate a repeat of Brexit and Trump are likely to be disappointed by the results.

Politics in the Netherlands is nowhere near polarised enough to create a winner-takes-all scenario. The Dutch House of Representatives has 150 seats, of which 75 must be filled by a single political party to create an absolute majority with which to form a government.

The balkanisation of the Dutch political landscape all but prevents this, with an absolute majority having never been achieved since the introduction of the current proportional representation system, which was implemented in 1918.

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, and the incumbent prime minister is Mark Rutte of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, abbreviated as VVD. He became the prime minister of the Netherlands in 2010, and a deadlock on the subject of an austerity budget led to a snap general election, called in 2012, in which VVD won with an even stronger mandate. He resumed his duties as prime minister after forming a coalition government with the Dutch Labour Party, abbreviated as PvdA, who are led by current deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher.

To put this into perspective, out of 150 potential seats, this high-water mark achieved 41 seats. The PvdA achieved 38 seats, and the Party of Freedom, abbreviated to PVV, achieved only 15. The Party of Freedom are led by Geert Wilders.

Geert Wilders has garnered a great deal of controversy due to his anti-immigration, anti-Islam and anti-European Union positions. He has acted as a lightning rod in these discussions and brought much of the focus onto himself and the PVV. As with all counter-culture politicians, Wilders has received much negative press and his views are presented in the usual distorted, heavily biased manner. Here is a short clip of Wilders giving his talking points on a range of relevant political subjects.

Wilders and his party are remarkably centrist in most regards, and even socialist in many of their policies. It is his stance on Islam that is most contentious, being distinctly illiberal, and this is the core of the media narrative surrounding him.

The most recent polls show that VVD have a clear lead with 17%, followed second by the PVV with 14%, contested hotly by Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). This is likely to translate into between 24 to 28 seats for the VVD, 19-22 seats for the PVV and 19-21 seats for the CDA. Support for the Labour Party collapsed for the same reasons support for the Liberal Democrats collapsed in the UK, leaving the VVD and the PVV vying for primacy.

Wilders is a total political outsider in the Netherlands, receiving little to no support from other major politial parties, who have actually pledged to form a coalition against the PVV in the event of a surprise win for Wilders’ party. This means that Geert Wilders will become the Dutch prime minister only in the highly-unlikely event that his party wins the first absolute majority in over a hundred years.

Put bluntly, this is probably not going to happen. Even if, as with Brexit and Trump, the polling is inaccurate and skewed, Wilders would have to achieve a massive swing of undecided voters to his party, a feat that seems even more unlikely due to the record number of 28 different political parties competing for votes. Unlike with Brexit and Trump, a narrow margin will not be enough to secure victory.

Interestingly, 4 days before the election a staggering 54% of Dutch people polled said they still did not know for which party they would cast their vote, with 15% not having even narrowed it down to a few choices. This is significant because, in the 2012 elections, 75% of the electorate voted. This is a huge number of undecided voters. If a similar number is seen tomorrow, out of the 9.5 million voters who cast their ballot in 2012, over 5 million Dutch voters are still undecided. While polling indicates the PVV have probably doubled the number of seats they will take in the House since 2012, Wilders would need the majority of undecided voters to vote for the PVV.

The recent diplomatic spat between the Netherlands and Turkey might appear to lend political support to Wilders. A Turkish minister had arrived in the Netherlands to speak at a pro-Erdogan rally in Rotterdam, and was prevented by the Dutch authorities. This caused a large protest, and an international incident in which Turkey responded by expelling Dutch diplomats. While there was little violence, the entire situtation had poor optics for advocates of multiculturalism, which appeared to show a large body of citizens who consider themselves Turkish and not Dutch. Inflammatory rhetoric by Erdogan did nothing to tempter the situation as he referred to them as his citizens, and encourage them to “take action” against those who insulted him. Wilders responded to this with his usual strident rhetoric on the issue.

This will doubtless give Wilders a boost in the election, but certainly not enough. Mark Rutte also rebuffed Erdogans demand for an apology, endearing him to voters. With the other political parties in harmony against him, Wilders will not become the prime minister of the Netherlands, although he will remain an influential figure in Dutch and international politics.

Analysis

Wilder’s remarkable popularity should be a wake-up call to not only the Dutch establishment, but the entire Western world. Wilders, to put it bluntly, is not running a professional political campaign. He has a one-man party that has an amateurish manifesto that is only 1 page long and is, frankly, rather fascist.

This is the manifesto in its entirety:

1. De-islamize the Netherlands
– Zero asylum seekers and no immigrants anymore from Islamic countries: close the borders
– Withdraw all asylum residence permits which have already been granted for specific periods, close the asylum centers
– No Islamic headscarves in public functions
– Prohibition of other Islamic expressions which violate public order
– Preventive detention of radical Muslims
– Denaturalization and expulsion of criminals with a dual nationality
– Jihadists who went to Syria will not be allow to return to the Netherlands
– Close all mosques and Islamic schools, ban the Koran
2. The Netherlands independent again. Leave the EU
3. Direct democracy: a binding referendum, power to the citizens
4. Completely abolish health care deductibles
5. Lower housing fees
6. Retirement age at 65, indexation of supplementary pensions
7. No public money for development aid, windmills, art, innovation, broadcasting, etc.
8. Rollback cuts in home care and elderly care, more hands on the bed
9. A lot of extra money for defense and police
10. Lower income taxes
11. Halving of car taxes

Unlike with Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, this manifesto actually threatens the civil liberties of Dutch citizens. The constraints of government on the citizen’s right to read what they choose, wear what they desire and practice their religion will be denied. Worse still, policies like preventative detention of “radical Muslims” and the prohibition of “Islamic expressions which violate public order” will see an inevitable expansion of the definitions of these terms and does set the stage for the public demonisation of a minority group.

What politicians in the Western world must ask themselves is why are so many people voting for this? Why has the PVV doubled its share of the Dutch vote since the last general election? These questions loom large over Europe and if the left-wing establishment will not answer them, then the right-wing will. The internet is awash with pro-Trump, pro-Farage, pro-Le Pen and pro-Wilders content. Memes, commentators and content creators can scent blood in the water and are pushing hard against the establishment because the establishment has failed to take their concerns seriously. The issue of mass immigration and the subsequent lack of integration is the most pressing political issue of our time and must be addressed frankly. If you do not respond to their concerns, then someone else will.

 

Sources

Political scientist on dutch elections https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/14/what-dutch-elections-are-all-about-netherlands-politics
Geert Wilders Polls http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/778648/Dutch-election-polls-live-updates-latest-news-Geert-Wilders-Mark-Rutte-Netherlands-poll
Wilders’ opinions http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/754516/Dutch-election-2017-will-Geert-Wilders-win-latest-polls-Netherlands-election
Turkey Row http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/13/netherlands-warns-citizens-careful-turkey-row-deepens/
Polls http://peilingwijzer.tomlouwerse.nl/
Turkish protesters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRL4m-0Mi9w
Geert Wilders’ manifesto https://www.geertwilders.nl/94-english/2007-preliminary-election-program-pvv-2017-2021
Dutch banned Turkish minister http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-europe-netherlands-idUSKBN16I07O
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/11/erdogan-brands-dutch-nazi-remnants-for-barring-turkish-mp
Turkey banned Dutch ambassador https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/13/turkey-summons-dutch-envoy-over-riot-police-tactics-in-rotterdam
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