As Voters Turn Out En Masse And Back PM, Netherlands Stems Populist Wave

As center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte looks on course for victory following the country’s biggest election in a generation, the Dutch establishment held strong under a growing wave of populism.

Concerns over a continued rise of populist sentiment across Europe were prompted by the anti-EU Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party appeared to make significant gains and ran a tumultuous campaign where anti-Islam rhetoric took good stand and the Dutch voters turned out en masse Wednesday to elect their new government amidst such an environment.

However, the incumbent Rutte’s party will secure the biggest share of the vote and sit at the helm of the country’s new government, suggested current indicators.

“It appears that the VVD will be the biggest party in the Netherlands for the third time in a row,” a beaming Rutte told cheering supporters at a postelection party in The Hague. “Tonight we’ll celebrate a little.”

33 of the 150 available parliamentary seats will be taken by Rutte’s VVD party at current count. While the Socialist Party is expected to take 14, the Christian Democratic Appeal and the centrist Democrats 66 look on track to secure 19 and Wilders’ PVV is set for 20 seats. Since joining a coalition with the VVD in the last election, the Labour Party appears to have suffered significant loses.

Rutte will need to strike a coalition deal with at least three other parties because the Dutch parliament requires a majority of 76 seats to form a government. It is likely that this could include the CDA and the D66 and one or more smaller parties, given that he has ruled out working with Wilders.

Having seen significant gains Wednesday and securing 14 seats, the Dutch Green Party could be one among these.

However, leader Jesse Klaver said: “I don’t want to go into government with the VVD,” adding that he blamed Rutte’s government for the rise of Wilders.

Due to the fragmented parliamentary system, Wilders is unlikely to hold any sway in the future government despite coming in second place. As Rutte made gains after drawing a hard line on foreign pressures from the Turkish government, he lost momentum in recent days.

However for Labour party, VVD’s former coalition ally, is likely face the most significant loss in Wednesday’s election.

The Labour party had to accede to a number of austerity measures as the junior party in the coalition. From securing 38 seats in 2012, the party went to just nine.

“In the Netherlands – particularly over the last 15 years – governing means losing votes,” explained Hans Vollaard, professor at Leiden University.

Vollaard warned potential bedfellows of the VVD to beware of what this could mean for the political futures of their respective parties as leading parties enter discussions to form a new government over the coming weeks and months.

“The most important message for governing parties is; include at least one of your main competitors in government,” he said, suggesting that the Christian Democrats might be the VVD’s next target.

“For the fiscal conservative VVD Party, led by the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte, it means at least get the Christian Democrats into government and for the D66 Party it will mean that they should get the GreenLeft party in it.”

(Adapted from CNBC)

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