Mar 172017


In this more personal As Seen From Afar I’d like to put the perspective upside-down and try to explain the results of this week’s election to those who have followed it from afar, worried that the Dutch might end up with ‘another Trump’ by voting for populist Geert Wilders of the Party voor de Vrijheid (PVV), lit. Party for the Freedom.

First of all, let me explain why it was very unlikely the Dutch would end up with a second Trump, and to do so I have to delve into the history and rules of our election system a bit, so bear with me for a moment.

One major difference between the American and the Dutch system is that officially our head of state is our King so we do not elect a President as head of state; our head of government is the Prime Minister, or Premier, who also isn’t directly elected. We have a parliament, which consists of two chambers and of which the Second Chamber, or Lower House, is the basis for a government. It has 150 seats, which are filled through elections using a party-list proportional representation: all votes are equal and every vote counts as one.

So far,  so good, as we say. After the elections, usually the leader of the party that “wins” the election, i.e. most seats in the 2nd Chamber, also gets to have a go at forming a government. If he (until now it has always been a ‘he’) succeeds, that person becomes the Premier, the head of government. Of course the Premier has little or no power/authority compared to an American president: no presidential decrees. Appointing ministers in the Premier’s cabinet is usually a complex game between his party and others.

You may have noticed I used a lot of ‘usually’ and quotes, and that brings me to the second reason why Wilders could not have become the Dutch Trump. As described above, the 2nd Chamber has 150 seats, to be filled by all the fractions that get enough votes to fill one or more seats. But here’s the rub: this year there were 28 parties to choose from and of those 13 made it into the 2nd Chamber. This means that seats are scattered among parties and a majority government can only be formed by forming a coalition, as usual.

2 3 do 16 mrt. 2017 NRC Handelsblad NRC Digitale editie

2 3 do 16 mrt. 2017 NRC Handelsblad NRC Digitale editie

The graphic above has Dutch text, but I’ve added it to give you an idea of how elections have developed in the Netherlands from 1959 onwards and to illustrate why the Dutch were not as alarmed about the prospect of a Premier Wilders. The top graph represents all fractions and their seats in the past three elections, the red-barred graph on the left the number of fractions since ’59 and the one below the minimal number of fractions needed to form a coalition since then.

Foreign reports on the issue often portrayed the election as a fight between the Geert Wilders and the Premier at the time, Mark Rutte (VVD), where in fact is was Wilders against 27 other parties. With our tradition of coalition governments not one Dutchman expected a Canadian Trudeau-effect of a majority win, not even Wilders himself I should think. He could of course have become the largest party, and before the campaigns started that seemed a reasonable possibility. But it’s effects were further countered by all major parties promising to decline to form a coalition government with the PVV, denying Wilders the possibility of ever becoming a Premier.

2015-03-17 22:40:37 DEN HAAG – VV-fraction leader Geert Wilders (L) en Premier Mark Rutte after a debate

Trump’s election success in November 2016, which undoubtedly greatly influenced Wilders’ polling numbers, pushing him beyond that of Mark Rutte’s VVD, had made Wilders very cocky, crowning himself Premier even before the election campaigns were anywhere in sight. He adopted a lot of Trump’s rhetoric and communicated a lot through tweets and bullied some of the press. But as Trump’s star started to fade when he took office this year, so did Wilders’.

Wilders was responsible for most of his own decline. During the campaigns he was conspicuous by his absence; he didn’t join in the debates where more parties were present except for the last  debate between Rutte and himself only, he did few rallies – perhaps cautious because his earlier conviction for insulting a group of people and enticement to discriminate, and he had little contact with his base, which he could partly attribute to failing security measures. He was asked to release his party program, like all other parties do, but could offer no more than one sheet of paper with a few bullet points and a few [to be filled in later]s, but no plans whatsoever and ending with a damning “etcetera“. By election time Wilder’s polling numbers had come down already, and even though our own media tried to whip up a bit more tension by referring to the “forgotten voters”, Trump and Brexit, that never resulted in the anxiety felt across our borders.

So, with a poll attendance of over 80% – no, the Dutch have not all turned away from politics – Rutte’s VVD has lost seats but has come out on top with 33 seats, and Wilders has won 5 seats but hasn’t matched his peak of 2010 of 24 seats with only 20 now. Rutte is expected to form a new government, Rutte III, together with numbers three and four.

So is all well now in The Netherlands? In my opinion, not really. While populist Wilders may seem to be slowly on his way out, quite a few new right-wing populist have taken his place by way of Denk (3 seats, popular among Turkish-Dutch), Forum van Thierry Baudet (2 seats, popular among Alt-Right), and 50Plus has doubled in size (4 seats, popular among the elderly). Labour has been annihilated, while the CDA, a Christian coalition, had chosen to aggressively fill the nationalistic and anti-Islam shoes that Wilders had failed to fill in debates and thus has managed to resurface and to become the third-largest party after Rutte’s VVD and Wilders’ PVV. Rutte’s party is called a liberal party in Europe, which is not to be confused with American liberals; the VVD sits firmly on the right of the political spectrum and has been responsible for the austerity that nearly bled us dry in the past. In all likelihood the new government will consist of right wing VVD and CDA and centrum party D66 with an additional small party to obtain a majority, which will be a further shift to the right, while at the same time it has to govern with an unruly opposition of a diversity of Social Democrats and populist parties.


  9 Responses to “As Seen from Afar 3/17/2017”

  1. Cross-posted on Care2

  2. All I can say is, "WHEW!  It could have been so much worse!"

    Hope the Dutch election will help out in France.

  3. Thanks.

  4. When you mentioned the monarchy and later Trudeau, I was reminded that Holland and Canada have had a special relationship at least since WWII.  The Dutch monarchy lived in Canada during WWII.  Here in Port Moody, there is a garden at Rocky Point Park that has a large patch of tulips gifted from the Dutch in recognition of the war effort.  I know my stepfather was a Canadian paratrooper who jumped and fought around Arnheim, and according to him, he was part of the liberation at the end of the war.

    This from Wikipedia:

    "On 12 May 1940, during the invasion of the Netherlands by Germany in World War II, Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana were evacuated to the United Kingdom to be followed the following day by the Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Government, who set up a government in exile. The princess remained there for a month before taking the children to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, where she resided at Stornoway in the suburb of Rockcliffe Park. Her mother and husband remained in Britain with the Dutch government-in-exile.[3]

    When her third child, Princess Margriet, was born, the Governor General of Canada, Alexander Cambridge, Earl of Athlone, granted Royal Assent to a special law declaring Princess Juliana's rooms at the Ottawa Civic Hospital as extraterritorial so that the infant would have exclusively Dutch, not dual nationality.[4] Had these arrangements not occurred, Princess Margriet would not be in the line of succession. The Canadian government flew the Dutch tricolour flag on parliament's Peace Tower while its carillon rang out with Dutch music at the news of Princess Margriet's birth. Prince Bernhard, who had remained in London with Queen Wilhelmina and members of the exiled Dutch government, was able to visit his family in Canada and be there for Margriet's birth. Princess Juliana's genuine warmth and the gestures of her Canadian hosts created a lasting bond which was reinforced when Canadian soldiers fought and died by the thousands in 1944 and 1945 to liberate the Netherlands from the Nazis. On 2 May 1945 she returned by a military transport plane with Queen Wilhelmina to the liberated part of the Netherlands, rushing to Breda to set up a temporary Dutch government. Once home she expressed her gratitude to Canada by sending the city of Ottawa 100,000 tulip bulbs. Princess Juliana of the Netherlands erected a Wooden lectern and brass plaque which is dedicated in thanks to the St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (Ottawa) for their hospitality during Princess Juliana's residence in Ottawa during the Second World War."

    In my day, we were taught all of this in history at high school.  BTW, Stornoway mention as the Ottawa home of Queen Julianna and the princesses is now the official residence of the loyal opposition.

    Thanks for the explanation and clarification of Dutch election procedures.

    • You're grandfather was right, Lynn. He was part of the liberation in 1945. The Netherlands was liberated by Canadian and Polish soldiers mainly and to a lesser extend by Americans. And in my day I also learned about the royal exile in Canada at school, mainly because Juliana was queen at the time, I think. They went into exile there because the relations have always been good, with a lot of Dutch emigrating to Canada before and especially after the war and Canada was/is part of the Commonwealth and therefore closer to "home", i.e. Britain/Europe than America, but safer than Britain.

  5. Brilliant, Lona.  I did not realize how many parties you have.  How much influence do Dutch "Republicans" have?

  6. I think our "two-party system" often serves to disguise how much we in America also have a coalition government.  That and the fact that many people in the coalitions are part of more than one group that forms the coalitions.  You courld say for instance that the American Democratic Party is really a coalition of a feminist party, a public health party, a socialist/social welfare party, an environmentalist party, an iuncome-equality party, an anti-poverty party, a gun-control party, and others.  But that would overlook the fact that hardly anyone in the Democratic party is in only one of those groups.  In fact, they overlap considerably.   But if not everyone in the parry is willing to function as a coalition, then the party falls apart.  That is what is now happening, in fact.

    I was wishing I had come across this earlier, but when you get a chance, perhaps you'd look at it and see what you think.  I tend to scrutinize The Real News carefully in case they get out into "Left Field," but this seems to have most of the crazy on the comments (sadly, often true on the Internet nowadays.)

    • Thanks for the link, Joanne.  Perhaps my reply to Arild's comment [" Most analysts are saying that populism/fascism is here to stay and that Holland dodged the bullet this time.The Dutch Election will possible have a positive spill-over effect in Germany but Marine le Pen in France still scares me. "] on Care2 will give you an answer too:

      Quite right, Arild. That is what I've tried to explain in the last paragraph. Populism comes in many guises, and it isn't always fascism, and the larger right wing parties that have adopted quite a bit of Geert Wilders' populism in the previous election (VVD) and in this election (CDA) are probably going to form a coalition government. The only thing good about this election is that extremer populism is spread among one larger party (PVV, Wilders) and a few smaller one and they probably will fight among each other for poll results, weakening their influence.

      This will probably also be the case in Germany, where there are more parties fighting for the popular bone too, including Merkel's CDU under pressure from for example their Bavarian district. In France much will depend on whether Marine Le Pen is willing to consolidate with other, much smaller extreme-right groups if she needs to. The problem for ALL populist parties is the enormous egos of their leaders; a blessing in disguise in elections in Europe, but not so much in America. 😉

      • The problem for ALL populist parties is the enormous egos of their leaders; a blessing in disguise in elections in Europe, but not so much in America.


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