This Wednesday, 15 March 2017, the Netherlands get the ball rolling for a series of elections in the European Union in the oncoming months that could determine the future of the bloc. During this day, Dutch voters will go to the polls to elect a new parliament and their next prime minister. This election will be watched closely as a bellwether for populism in Europe. The results of the election will determine which party will have a chance to form a new government.
Immigration and the Netherlands’ membership of the European Union are at the core of the campaign which opposes two party leaders against each other: the liberal incumbent Mark Rutte and the most notable populist leaders in Europe now, far-right dutch politician Geert Wilders.
What you need to know about today’s Dutch election.
The key players
Having started as a fringe party, Geert Wilders, and its Party for Freedom (PVV) is now one of the most prominent influence in this election. Thus, more established parties are challenged by its anti-EU, anti-Islam politics. Of course, Wilders’ populist appeal has induced frequent comparisons to Trump. Inspired by the U.S. President’s style, Wilders gives us an experience of “déjà vu” with declaration such as “Our people have been betrayed by politicians and want a new Patriotic Spring”.
“Fitna”, a provocative online film against the Muslims community published in 2008 made him known internationally. Its watchwords: stop immigration from Muslim countries, shut down mosques and ban the burqa. These methods have cost to the far-right leader to be found guilty of inciting discrimination against Moroccans in the Netherlands last year. And that didn’t stop him to call Moroccans “scum who make the streets unsafe” recently.
If elected prime minister, he also promised to remove the Netherlands from the EU through a referendum.
Although Wilders had been dominating the polls for a while now, the gap has become smaller and smaller to finally let the Prime Minister Mark Rutte take the lead in those last days.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, won a second term in 2012 and is now seeking for his third term in office.
The liberal incumbent relies on the Netherlands’ economic stability to win but not only. Indeed instead of being Wilders’ antagonist, Rutte seems to have pushed himself to the right to compete with Wilders.
That strategy made him write an open letter in January, in which he warns immigrants who refuse to adapt to Dutch traditions: « behave normally, or go away. ». And unlike Wilders, Rutter is not Eurosceptic nor he claims for a “Nexit” despite him saying that the concept of an ever closer union, an EU rallying cry for nearly 30 years was « dead. »
The key issues
Immigration, Dutch EU membership, and crime and security are the most important issues in the election.
All those issues are linked to the EU and have completely dominated the discussion, leaving little space for the left-wing issues for the benefit of right-wing ones. This explains why Rutte has followed the lead with his way to speak about integration. But he also wants to show the growing recovery of the Dutch economy, which displays a decrease to a five-year low, with 2.5 percent economic growth.
Geert Wilders Prime Minister ?
It’s unlikely. According to the Peilingwijzer poll of polls by Leiden University, the two competitors are neck and neck. But even if Wilders comes out with more votes than Rutte, there will be no majority for him to form government. A coalition is inevitable.
In a scenario where Wilders gets the most votes, he wouldn’t have the allies in parliament to create a coalition.
“Imagining that he gets around 15% or so of the vote, the other parties he’ll need in his coalition will be even smaller, so he’ll need at least three or four parties to join him. If you can find even one, I challenge you to find two, let alone three or four,” the political scientist André Krouwel said.
And indeed, most Dutch parties announced that they are not willing to join Wilders. Those who did not reject the idea want him to renounce to his anti-immigration mainstay, the pillar of his base.
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