Right-Wing Populist Geert Wilders Wins Dutch Elections Against All Odds

Anne-Marie Reynaers

6 mins - 23 de Noviembre de 2023, 13:00

Against all odds, Geert Wilders, leader of the “Party for Freedom” (PVV), won yesterday’s general election in the Netherlands. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), in power since 2010 and led until recently by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, came third, while the second place went to the left-wing formation resulting from the merger between the “Green Left” and the “(social democratic) Labour Party” (GroenLinks-PvdA). These results had not been predicted by any polls and the surprise, for better or worse, is truly immense in the country.

Following the anticipated fall in July 2023 of the executive known as ‘Rutte IV’, a coalition comprising the VVD, Democrats 66 (D66), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Christian Union (UC), the Dutch mobilised yesterday, Tuesday, to decide on the country’s political future. At 9 p.m. the polls closed and shortly afterwards the first provisional results began to be published. Although the polls predicted a narrow victory for the VVD (29 seats out of 150), currently led by former Minister of Justice and Security Dilan Yeşilgöz, with the PVV in second place (27), and followed by GroenLinks-PvdA (24), in the end it was Geert Wilders who won with 37 seats. Ten more than expected and to some extent at the expense of the VVD (24), a party that has suffered a ten-seat drop compared to the number of seats it had so far in parliament. The VVD’s fall is even harder as it has been overtaken by the left-wing GroenLinks-PvdA (25). The final results will be known on 1 December.

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The surprising victory of the PVV, a right-wing populist party founded in 2006 by Geert Wilders and characterised by Euroscepticism and Islamophobia, is a clear reflection of the volatility that characterises voting intentions in the country. For example, after the dissolution of the Rutte IV government last July, the “Peasant-Citizen Movement” (BBB) was polling at 23 seats, making it the party with the most support behind only the VVD. These virtual seats, however, melted like wax as the election drew nearer (it eventually won 7 seats). Later on, opinion polls began to raise Pieter Omtzigt, co-founder of the “New Social Contract” (NSC) party created last August, to the level of a possible new prime minister. As with the BBB, last night’s result was far from what had been predicted, with the party coming in fourth place with 20 seats.

Electoral volatility is not a recent phenomenon in the Netherlands, but an established feature of Dutch politics. Volatility is understood as the degree to which the electorate’s voting preference shifts from one election to another. Volatility is considered high when the figure reaches 15%. If we look at the graph below, we can conclude that over the last 30 years Dutch society has switched its vote from one party to another with relative ease. The most recent manifestation of this volatility, which is now very significant, has been observed in the last two weeks when, almost overnight, Wilders’ PVV abruptly rose from 17 to 27 seats. It may be that the current leader of the VVD, hitherto Justice and Security Minister Dilan Yeşilgöz, gave away a good part of her ten seats when she announced a few days ago that she did not see a marriage with the PVV as feasible, despite the fact that both leaders agreed on the need for a more restrictive migration and asylum policy. In this sense, the PVV seems to have attracted strategic voters who wanted to secure a right-wing government in the country.
Fuente: Emanuele, V. (2015), Dataset of Electoral Volatility and its internal components in Western Europe (1945-2015), Rome: Italian Center for Electoral Studies

In addition to electoral volatility, it is worth noting that in the Netherlands political parties appear and disappear relatively normally. In the last elections, 26 political parties contested the elections, compared to 37 in 2021. With such a changing, fragmented, and pluralistic political landscape, one might think that we are facing an unsolvable governance problem. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Since 1945 this multi-party system has given rise to coalitions composed of two, three, or even four parties, often uniting the right with the left and supported by the centre. Something that, to this day, for example in Spain, has not been achieved. This long tradition of coalition-building does not mean that the formation of governments is quick and easy, but it does provide a solid basis on which differences between parties can be resolved in mutual agreements.

As the election winner, the key to forming a new government lies in the hands of Geert Wilders. Interestingly, the populist leader began his political career as an MP for the VVD and in 2010, with his current party, supported Rutte’s first (minority) government. Wilders has already communicated that he has ambitions to be the prime minister of ‘all Dutch people’ and that he would like to form a coalition with the NSC, CDA, BBB, and the VVD. Although Yeşilgöz was initially reluctant to collaborate with the PVV, after last night’s results he has said that he will consult with his party on the relationship they should establish with Wilders.

Complex challenges await the new government, such as the housing shortage, asylum policy, immigration, and the decline of public confidence in politics. Wilders’ own security may also become a challenge, as the politician has had to live in a secret safehouse for the past two decades due to the threats he has received because of his anti-Islamic statements. Yesterday’s elections mark a break in the hegemony of the VVD. The Dutch will not, as many had hoped, have a woman prime minister in the country’s history. With Geert Wilders, the Netherlands will have, as with Mark Rutte, a prime minister whose family roots are in “Nederlands-Indië”, i.e., the former Dutch colony of Indonesia.
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