The victory of the Liberal Party in last Wednesday's parliamentary election in the Netherlands led to elation, if not jubilation, among establishment politicians throughout the European Union. The far-right Freedom Party (PVV), led by the incendiary Geert Wilders, did not gain as many votes as pollsters predicted, but still managed to gain five seats to become the second-largest party in the Dutch House of Representatives.
Not A Clean Victory
The Liberals' loss of of eight seats, combined with the Freedom Party's gains, narrows the gap between the top two parties by a cumulative 13 seats. While Liberal leader and Prime Minister Mark Rutte gets to keep his job, the Labor Party, which was his coalition partner, suffered a total collapse at the polls. Labor's fall from power is the worst single-election loss in Dutch history. To avoid the same fate, the Liberals (who, despite their name, are a center-right party) toughened their stance against immigrants, moving further to the right in order to limit any defections to Wilders and the PVV.
Labor's destruction spread their 29 lost seats among several left-leaning parties. The biggest winner was the Greens, who more than tripled their seats in Parliament from four to 14 and took the cities of Amsterdam and Njimegen, all at the expense of Labor.
In what appears to be an anti-fascist sentiment against the PVV, the new pro-immigration, Turkish-Dutch DENK party makes its first appearance at the seat of power in the Netherlands, winning three seats.
Freezing Out The Freedom Party
Even though the PVV is the second-largest party in the House, Prime Minister Rutte has flatly ruled out any idea of forming a coalition with the anti-Islam party. The PVV has limited leverage in negotiations, as they are only one seat ahead of both the Christian Democrats and Democrats, each at 19 seats. Both are the most likely candidates for forming a coalition government with the Liberals, but leaves Prime Minister Rutte four seats shy of the 76 seats needed for a majority.
Geert Wilders is voicing his displeasure of the PVV being excluded from talks to form a new government, but will still have a large say in Parliamentary affairs as leader of the opposition.
The Freedom Party still has a base of support among working class, older white Dutch, much like Donald Trump's base in the United States, and could tap into growing anti-immigrant fervor to gain more seats in the next election. Wilders' accomplishments as opposition leader will play a large part in any increase in the PVV's strength.
Is Wilders' Loss A Predictor for France and Germany?
Wilders recently attended a rally in Germany with Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right Front Nationale (FN), and Frauke Petry of the right-wing extremist Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Before the Dutch election, the PVV's performance was being touted as a bellwether for Le Pen's and Petry's chances of gaining power. This common consensus was taken to heart inside FN and AfD, since Wilders led in most polls right up to the election. A last-minute plea by Rutte for the Dutch to stand against Islamophobia and far-right populism seemed to have brought a surge of voters to the polls, scuttling Wilders' chances at gaining the prime ministership.
Some pundits assert that Donald Trump's missteps as president has reduced the emotional support his campaign had given to right-wing parties in Europe. This could have been a factor in the PVV's sudden loss of a degree of popular support right before the election.
Of course, every nation's political environment has its own factors. A close loss by Wilders in the Netherlands is still enough to encourage the far-right in France and Germany.
Next up on the crisis calendar is the first round of presidential elections in France next month, where Le Pen is taking advantage of a fractured Left to poll in either first or second place. Any more terror attacks in Europe will likely boost her support among middle-aged, white French who feels besieged in their own country.
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