Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Massive swing to the right in Dutch elections

  • Mark Rutte - the likely new Dutch leader, has promised almost €20 billion in spending cuts in coming years, including €1 billion a year less for the EU pot (Photo: NewsPhoto!)

Conservative liberal Mark Rutte narrowly won the Dutch general elections on Wednesday (9 June). But the big shock of the night is that 1.5 million people - almost one in five - voted for the islamophobe Geert Wilders.

With 97 percent of the vote counted, Mr Rutte's VVD party won 31 seats and the centre-left Labour Party (PvdA) won 30. Mr Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) came third with 24, showing up pollsters who had predicted he would win at best 18.

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The ruling centre-right Christian Democrats (CDA) got 21, losing half their support and prompting an emotional resignation by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

The result could see a right and far-right VVD-PVV-CDA coalition with 76 out of 150 seats in parliament. Mr Rutte on Wednesday congratulated Mr Wilders first out of the other winners. A VVD spin doctor, Frits Huffnagel, said talks with the PVV should quickly begin.

Dutch commentators are not yet ruling out a left-leaning coalition led by the VVD and PvdA, however. Strong gains by the social liberal D66 party and Green Left faction, which have ruled out any deal with Mr Wilders, make the scenario more plausible.

The uncertainty means that the eurozone's fifth largest economy, which is heading for an EU-rule-busting deficit of 6.6 percent this year, could remain leaderless for an extended period. Mr Rutte said he aims to form a government by 1 July. But last time around coalition talks took three months.

The result also means the Netherlands will lose a major player in the EU Council. The devout Calvinist former prime minister, Mr Balkenende, earned himself a reputation as an able statesman over the past eight years in Brussels and was in 2009 a serious candidate for the job of EU Council president.

The likely new leader, Mr Rutte, an unmarried, 43-year-old former business executive, has pointed to a cooling of relations with the EU. Mr Rutte is keen to cut his country's EU budget contribution by over €1 billion a year and to curb further integration.

Inside the Netherlands, the rise of Mr Wilders is expected to increase social tension.

Young liberal and green voters gathered for an election night event at the Melkweg music venue in Amsterdam on Wednesday gasped and booed every time the screens showed Mr Wilders' party leaping ahead in small south-lying towns, where the PVV picked up many former Balkenende supporters.

"Throwing mud at a particular group does not contribute to a harmonious society," Moroccan activist Driss El Boujoufi told the Dutch press agency ANP.

Many Wilders supporters are white, working class people worried about crime and immigration, with the Netherlands home to one of Europe's largest Muslim concentrations, making up six percent of the population.

Mr Wilders, who lives under 24-hour police protection, is currently facing charges for incitement to hatred in the Netherlands over his film, Fitna, which describes the Koran as "fascist." He advocates banning the Muslim veil and the building of new Mosques. But his new model far-right party is also pro-Israeli, gay-friendly and keen to protect social benefits.

"More security, less crime, less immigration, less Islam - that is what the Netherlands has chosen," he said on Dutch TV on Wednesday.

EU leaders task Tusk to find commission chief by June

With national leaders and the European Parliament divided over who to put forward for the commission presidency, the EU Council president will now start negotiations with all sides - hoping to come up with an answer by next month.

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