Geert Wilders may have lost the election, but he left Dutch politics in a mess
The failure of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders to deliver on the hype has drawn a sigh of relief from supporters of the Netherlands’ liberal tradition. But the election cycle has left Dutch politics more fragmented than ever — a reality that will benefit the right-wing extremist Wilders, who has vowed to fight on.
With talks now underway on forming a ruling coalition, current Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right VVD is the favorite to lead a new government, despite losing 8 seats in Wednesday’s vote. But the Labour Party – Rutte’s coalition partner in the last government – was virtually wiped out in the election.
That loss leaves a chasm between smaller left-wing parties and conservatives, including Rutte, who felt moved to match Wilders’ anti-immigrant tone during the campaign in an attempt to contain his polling surge. In late January, Rutte penned a controversial open letter that criticized immigrants who don’t adopt Dutch values. “Behave normally, or go away,” Rutte wrote. And in the summer, the Dutch P.M. came under pressure when he said Turkish-Dutch protesters, who had harassed journalists during anti-coup protests in Rotterdam, should “fuck off,” and “go back to Turkey.”
We were the 3rd largest party of the Netherlands.
Now we are the 2nd largest party.
Next time we will be nr. 1! pic.twitter.com/lKN5CFUhPT
— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) March 16, 2017
A Wilders win would have shaken Europe, already bracing for imminent elections in France and Germany who are both dealing with far-right candidates of their own. But despite many Western leaders breathing a sigh of relief as the results came in, the right-wing extremist political agenda will still loom large over the new government, as Wilders’ Freedom Party is now in second place. Indeed, with a gain of 5 seats, Wilders now has a significant platform as the country’s official opposition.
Political analyst Dr André Krouwel, of Amsterdam’s Free University, told VICE News that Wilders influence in Dutch politics will now only increase.
“How did Rutte win? By basically copying Wilders in policy. He didn’t beat him with an alternative program. He beat him at his own game by being anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. Do you win when you take on other people’s ideas? I’m not so sure.”
“I think a lot of Dutch voters were looking for security and a sense of protection, and what they’ve got is actually the opposite. They’ve created a very fragmented landscape.”
Instead of the result being a clear win for progressives, Krouwel said that the issues that dominated the divisive campaign cycle will remain at the forefront of Dutch politics.
“Wilders pushed right-wing issues to the political agenda, and siphoned seats from the mainstream parties, so they will need to govern somehow alongside the progressive left … Wilders will now have a field day holding them accountable while they try to govern alongside parties who don’t agree with these policies.”
Krouwel also questioned the significance of gains made by the so-called “Dutch Trudeau” Jesse Klaver, whose Groenlinks party performed historically well but lacks like-minded parties allowing it to form a government.
“His dream of forming a left-wing majority has become a nightmare,” he said. “There is no way he can form any left-wing majority. It’s simply not there.”
Despite the likelihood that any future coalition government will now have to assume a platform that includes more hard-right policies, progressive voters in Amsterdam speaking to VICE News Thursday nonetheless appeared contented by Wilders’ failure to secure the votes needed to declare himself the outright winner.
Gijs Peters, a 22-year-old Amsterdam coffee shop worker selling pre-rolled joints to Danish tourists, laughed at the prospect of Wilders. “The media all thought ‘here is another Donald Trump’, but the Netherlands said no to him and that makes me feel good,” he said. “He does a lot of shouting, but when it comes to Wilders most people are deaf by now.”
Roberto Brandse, who runs a flower stall in a central Amsterdam market, said: “We are happy now. With Wilders, he needs only one piece of paper for all of his policies. People know now that he can’t actually do anything.”
Most headlines rightly denote Wilders as the election’s big loser. But speaking Thursday, Wilders warned the Dutch political establishment it has “not seen the last” of him. With his policy agenda now set to influence government, and the rest of Dutch politics divided over how to implement it, he may well end up claiming a victory of another sort.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS