The Dutch establishment held strong under a growing wave of populism as center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte looks on course for victory following the country’s biggest election in a generation.
Dutch voters turned out in their masses Wednesday to elect their new government following a tumultuous campaign in which anti-Islam and anti-EU Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party appeared to make significant gains, prompting concerns over a continued rise of populist sentiment across Europe.
However, current indicators suggest that incumbent Rutte’s party will secure the biggest share of the vote and sit at the helm of the country’s new government.
“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 post-election party in The Hague. “Tonight we’ll celebrate a little.”
At current count, Rutte’s VVD party will take 33 of the 150 available parliamentary seats. Wilders’ PVV is set for 20 seats, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the centrist Democrats 66 (D66) look on track to secure 19, while the Socialist Party (SP) is expected to take 14. The Labour Party (PvdA) appears to have suffered significant loses since joining a coalition with the VVD in the last election, and is likely to secure 9 seats.
The Dutch parliament requires a majority of 76 seats to form a government, so Rutte will need to strike a coalition deal with at least three other parties. Given that he has ruled out working with Wilders, it is likely that this could include the CDA and the D66 and one or more smaller parties.
The Dutch Green Party could be one among these, having seen significant gains Wednesday and securing 14 seats. However, leader Jesse Klaver told CNBC Wednesday “I don’t want to go into government with the VVD,” adding that he blamed Rutte’s government for the rise of Wilders.
Despite coming in second place, Wilders is unlikely to hold any sway in the future government due to the fragmented parliamentary system. He lost momentum in recent days as Rutte made gains after drawing a hard-line on foreign pressures from the Turkish government.
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s result sees Wilders’ party shift up from third place in the previous election. Wilders heralded the result a major gain for the party, tweeting “We won seats. The first gains are made.”
“Rutte has not seen the back of me!!”
A landmark vote
The result was a significant one for Dutch democracy. 82 percent of the electorate turned out to the polls on Wednesday, the highest number in 30 years.
The outcome was also seen as a win for opinions polls, whose reputations had taken a battering in recent months following their drastic failure to predict Trump’s election and the Brexit vote last year. While note precisely accurate, the most recent polls did predict a win for Rutte and second place for Wilders.
Wednesday’s election was seen by Europe-watchers as a litmus test for other upcoming elections across the continent, specifically in France and Germany.
Politicians from both countries were quick to congratulate the Netherlands for staving off populist policies which overturned the U.S. election and the U.K.’s EU referendum.
“Congratulations to the Dutch for stemming the rise of the far-right,” France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault wrote on Twitter. “Desire to work for a stronger Europe.”
The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, Peter Altmaier, described the exit poll result as “terrific”.
“Netherlands oh Netherlands you are a champion,” he Tweeted. “Congratulations on this terrific result.”