PM Rutte wins Dutch election, Wilders contained
By Peter Teffer
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte's centre-right Liberal party remains the largest political party in the Netherlands, after lower house elections on Wednesday (15 March).
The Party for Freedom (PVV) of anti-EU MP Geert Wilders gained five seats, as of Thursday morning with 95 percent of the votes counted.
Wilders ended up in second place with 20 seats out of 150, a less triumphant victory than in the 2010 elections, when his party won 24 seats.
Rutte said following the UK's decision to leave the EU, and the US election of Donald Trump, that the Netherlands had said “stop” against “the wrong type of populism”.
“The message that we want to continue the course the coming years, to keep this country safe, stable and wealthy, has been heard,” he said, adding that he would “give everything” to form a “stable government that can govern this country wisely the next four years”.
Wilders said he would like to participate in a coalition government, but this is highly unlikely given his party's radically different views.
“I would have preferred to become the biggest party,” said Wilders.
But while Rutte's party came out top, with 33 seats, it was a relative success given that the Liberals lost eight seats. The election result was a harsh verdict for Rutte's pragmatic coalition with the centre-left Labour party.
Labour suffered the worst electoral defeat in its history. It had won 38 seats in 2012, but this year received only 9 seats.
The mood at a gathering of Labour's top brass in Amsterdam on Wednesday night was gloomy.
“This hurts, of course,” said Lilliane Ploumen, Labour's trade and development minister.
“We have worked hard for four years to drag the Netherlands out of the crisis, together with the Liberals,” she told EUobserver. “It is important that this job was done. But it is also important that people feel it. Apparently they did not feel it.”
Her colleague, foreign minister Bert Koenders told EUobserver that the main reason for the loss was that Labour was the “junior partner” in the coalition.
“The coalition has reformed the country, also in a social way, but the credits go to the largest partner. You often see that,” said Koenders. “What I do find relatively positive is the small gains for the PVV. They won, four seats, but it is not the larger success that some had expected.”
Koenders spoke when exit polls predicted a four-seat gain for Wilders, instead of five.
Labour's defeat also raises the question of whether its member Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who was finance minister, can remain president of the Eurogroup, the body of eurozone finance ministers.
Elsewhere in Amsterdam, the supporters of GreenLeft celebrated in a concert hall. Their party's representation in the lower house made a substantial jump from four seats to 14.
“Populism has stopped here in the Netherlands,” GreenLeft leader Jesse Klaver told the crowd.
“Geert Wilders has won some seats on this election night, but just a couple. It was not the breakthrough he was hoping for,” Klaver later added talking to press.
He told EUobserver that the election result did not provide a clear pro- or anti-European picture.
“However, it is remarkable that the one who really wants a Nexit, made only limited gains,” he said, noting that his party and the centrist D66, both proudly pro-EU, both increased in size.
D66 went from 12 to 19 seats, while the centre-right Christian-Democrats went from 13 to 19 seats.
“I do see this as a small helping hand for pro-European forces in the Netherlands,” he added.
Former GreenLeft MEP Joost Lagendijk was also present at the party in Amsterdam. He now works as an analyst.
He told EUobserver that the “domino theory” - Brexit, Trump, and possibly populist gains in elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany – has stopped.
“If Wilders had become the largest, then that would have been an enormous support for [French far right presidential candidate Marine] Le Pen. This proves that there is a ceiling to populists' [popularity],” said Lagendijk.
The Green ex-MEP said he thought Rutte had won because of an “Erdogan effect” - the diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Turkey helped him emit statesmanship.
Difficult coalition talks follow next. At least four parties will be needed to form a majority in the lower house.
The Dutch voted for a highly fragmented lower house, with representation for 13 parties.
Two new parties entered the parliament: Denk and Forum for Democracy. The first says it defends the interests of Dutch citizens with a migration background, the second is an anti-EU think tank that campaigned against the EU-Ukraine association agreement.
Voter turnout was 80.4 percent.