Far-Right Party Makes Big Gains in Dutch Election

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Preliminary elections results show a big win for the Netherlands’ far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) party in provincial elections. 

Campaign signs for the Dutch provincial elections, held March 20, 2019. (Molly Quell / CNS)

The day before the election, it was unclear if public broadcaster NOS would hold a closing debate after a shooting on a tram in Utrecht left three people dead. But the debate was held and the leaders of 12 parties participated, with only the Independent Senate Group (OSF) bowing out.

Despite Wednesday election being a provincial one, the debate focused more on national issues than provincial ones and the word “province” was only used a handful of times.

A final poll was also released the evening before the election that gave FvD the largest gain, from zero seats to nine. The prime minister’s party, the pro-business VVD, was predicted to lose a seat, while the other large gain was predicted to go to the green left party GroenLinks with a gain of five seats. 

In the end, the win was larger for FvD than polling predicated: The party, led by Thierry Baudet, will get 13 seats in the Dutch Senate, up from zero seats before this election.

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk,” Baudet said Wednesday evening following the election, referring to the Roman symbol of wisdom.

The 75-seat body previously had a one seat majority for the four-party coalition government, the same narrow majority that it carries in the lower house. Now, however, the VVD, socially liberal D66 and two Christian parties, CDA and CU, will only have 31 seats in the Senate. 

Some of FvD’s gain comes at the expense of the other far-right party, the PVV, led by Geert Wilders. The PVV lost four seats in the Senate, going from nine to four. The socialist party SP lost five. While economically progressive, the SP tried to appeal to the anti-immigrant sentiments of potential FvD or PVV voters, a strategy which seems to have backfired.

Other gains went to GroenLinks, which picked up five seats, while the animal-rights party PvdD gained one. 

Wednesday’s election doesn’t necessarily mean the coalition government will fall. Instead, the group will have to work with opposition parties to pass legislation. In the Netherlands, the Senate only approves or rejects laws already passed by the House on technical or legal issues. 

“This means drinking a lot of coffee,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told supporters in a speech last night. He said he was willing to work with parties from all sides of the political spectrum, while Baudet described the election results as “punishment for the arrogance and stupidity” of the current leadership.

As both the Labor Party, the PvdA and GroenLinks hold enough seats to form a majority with the current coalition, it’s likely Rutte will be looking toward the left to make deals. 

Exit polling indicated voters in Utrecht did not seem to be influenced by the shooting that occurred in the city Monday. Over three-quarters of voters said the shooting did not impact their choice of who to vote for. Turnout was up in the city, to over 60 percent – the second highest of any of the 12 provinces.

Turnout was up all over the country. In 2015, the last provincial election, nearly 48 percent of voters cast ballots. On Wednesday, turnout jumped to 56 percent.

The Netherlands does not elect its Senate directly, instead electing members of provincial councils which then select senators. That election will take place in May. 

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