In The Netherlands, a Pyrrhic victory against nationalism

Geert Wilders didn’t become The Netherlands’ PM—but a patchwork parliament and still-rising tides makes Mark Rutte’s win far from clear-cut

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), left, and Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party (VVD), speak during a meeting at the House of Representatives at the Dutch Parliament following the national elections in The Hague, Netherlands, on Thursday, March 16, 2017. Dutch voters turned out in force to back pro-European parties and help Prime Minister Mark Ruttes Liberals easily beat off an election challenge by the anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, drawing a line in the sand over the spread of populism. (Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), left, and Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party (VVD), speak during a meeting at the House of Representatives at the Dutch Parliament following the national elections in The Hague, Netherlands, on Thursday, March 16, 2017. (Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

No one really wins a Dutch election, so the popular wisdom goes—and this week’s vote was no exception.

While Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the centre-right VVD party is positioned to stay the course, Wednesday’s vote left the political landscape of the Netherlands much-changed. The far-right populist movement of Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party ultimately stumbled, though it did gain five seats, coming in second place with 20 seats behind Rutte’s 33 (a loss of 8 seats from the last election).

But the Dutch parliamentary system requires that the winner—in this case Mark Rutte—achieve an outright majority in order to form a government, and in the absence of a clear winner, a coalition must be formed. Of the 150 seats in Dutch parliament, Mr. Rutte’s coalition must account for at least 76. It won’t be easy, since the PM has sworn he will not collaborate with Wilders, his anti-immigrant, Islamophobic opponent.

Because the Netherlands lacks multiple electoral ridings, seats are allocated roughly in proportion to each party’s share of the national vote. This makes it easy for small, often single-issue parties, such as Freedom or the Greens, to enter parliament. It also means the Dutch parliament is a patchwork of competing political platforms and interests, ranging from the far left to the deeply Christian and conservative. Mr. Rutte will have his work cut out for him negotiating a coalition in the coming weeks.

Luckily, there is historical precedent. No single Dutch party has won a clear majority in modern history, so Mr. Rutte—who has already served two terms as PM—and his Dutch political colleagues are well-versed in the art of negotiating political compromise.

But despite this increasingly fragmented political landscape, Mr. Rutte and his supporters celebrated his victory as one that saved the Netherlands from “the wrong kind of populism.” He promised his party would “hold our course, and keep this country safe, stable and prosperous.”

In fact, Mr. Rutte’s victory was in many ways down to timing and luck. He was polling neck-and-neck with his far-right opponent until late last week when a diplomatic spat with Turkey provided political manna from heaven. After the Dutch government refused to allow a Turkish minister to land her plane in Rotterdam on the grounds it would exacerbate religious tensions in the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Dutch government of “nazism.” Mr. Rutte’s firm-yet-even-handed response was widely praised.

The Dutch election was closely watched within the Eurozone, too. With France and Germany also heading to the polls later this year, the hope is that Mr. Rutte’s victory signals stability for the EU (like most far right populists, Wilders is also vehemently anti-Europe). The victory of centrism is a slightly hollow one, however; Mr. Rutte did, after all, lose nearly a quarter of his seats. And Wilders—who campaigned on a platform of banning immigration and asylum-seekers, the public wearing of hijab, all mosques and Muslim schools as well as the Quran, a process he described as the “de-Islamification” of the Netherlands—showed no signs of being cowed by the result. Like a villain in a 19th-century melodrama, Wilders warned Mr. Rutte that he “has not seen the last of me,” and told his supporters the so-called “patriotic spring” was yet to come.

That Wilders managed to increase his party’s seats by a quarter despite being convicted of spreading hate crimes against Dutch-Moroccans—whom he openly referred to as “scum” in his speeches—shows that there has been a significant political shift in the Netherlands. Once considered a bastion of openness and tolerance, this tiny, socially-liberal country must now reconcile itself to the fact that it strengthened the standing of an Islamophobe in opposition. For the rest of Europe, it looks like the new normal.


In The Netherlands, a Pyrrhic victory against nationalism

  1. From a Canadian
    l will no longer stand quietly by and let Radical Islam put down roots in my Canada…
    l will resist their attempt to take away my free speech
    l look at Greece
    l look at Italy
    l look at Germany
    l look at France
    l look at England
    l think to myself why would l want this outdated farce in my Canada….
    why would l want Sharia Law in my Canada…
    why would l want no go zones in my Canada…
    why on earth would someone even consider this in this day and age
    Why should Canadian women cower in fear that Sharia Law might gain roots in Canada
    lm guessing that politicians have gotten so desperate for votes their now willing to sell out ordinary Canadians and their values for a few votes no mater where or how they get them
    lm all for responsible immigration….
    This push to fill my Canada with Radical muslims is not responsible immigration !!
    when they pull up to the Canadian Border in a taxi only to be directed by US Customs where to go and cross illegally into Canada l can only shake my head in disbelief
    Why should we take these folks in when they break the law to get into Canada trying to jump the queue that other folks have waited years to get in….
    L think a wise idea would to be to slow down on the Islamic immigration into Canada until we see how Greece,Italy,France and England work out.
    Gotta be honest here…dosnt seem to be working out to well over there folks…am hoping Canadians are smarter than l give them credit for at this point
    This is your future folks…choose wisely
    l will no longer stand by quietly on the sidelines and see my Canada given away for a few simple votes
    l will engage my family
    l will engage my friends
    l will engage my coworkers
    l will ask them to also engage thier own familys…thier own friends and thier coworkers as well
    l will not go quietly into that dark muslim night….

    A Canadian

    • Okay, you can’t take a hint, and you don’t understand a warning.

      The justice dept needs to see this.

    • Bravo! Comox Courtney!!!!

      • You can join him in the can, Imperial Wizard

    • Encore, Comox Courteny! (Free speech Em.)

  2. There is a real issue here : immigration without assimilation is invasion. It’s just absolutely natural that the Dutch want their country to be their, that is a country with European, humanitarian, Christian values. Those who do not share these values have to leave. There are a lot of countries on the planet where Islam is a culture is majority, where Islamic values form foundation of social values. Therefore there are plenty of options for Muslims to chose destination.

    • LOL when all the countries in Europe were ‘white’ and ‘christian’ they had WWI and WWII!

      So everyone mingling, and eliminating borders isn’t going to be any different. People simply have to stop fighting over stupid stuff like religion and skin colour.

      • You confuse race and culture: there are a lot of white Muslim countries such as Turkey, Bosnia, Albania, Lebanon, Syria and more.

        Before WWI and WWII all non-white countries had their own wars, and they still have wars now. Humanism was born in Europe and brought to non-European peoples by their colonial masters along with notions of peacekeeping, modern medicine, education and on and on….

        • That’s amazing. So only white people ever did anything good?

          You slept through history class, right?

          Humanism came from India and China.

          Colonialists brought colonialism…..not peacekeeping

          And the Muslim contribution to the world is enormous……we wouldn’t be here without them.

          • How did you come to the conclusion that only white people ever did anything good?

            India still keeps remains of its cast system that was fundamental for its culture for millennia. In China human life traditionally is worth nothing before the state interests even now, the state is everything there, human rights is nothing. Is that what you call humanism?

            The Muslims own contribution to the world is actually handful at the best. They deserved some credit mainly just for keeping and passing over time many ancient books: those written by ancient Greeks and Romans before Islam had emerged. We would be much better without them because they destroyed much more than developed.

        • Look it’s not my fault you have no education……just don’t contaminate this site with your ignorance.

          • Mobile Actor, “Emily One” makes comments for every article having to do with Islam. Her comments are generally mis-informed. (I would say “stupid”, but I try not to offend unnecessarily.) Don’t waste your breath trying to reason with her. She has one goal, and one goal only — and that is to disrupt any rational discussion.

          • It would be nice if I could FIND a ‘rational discussion…..but your type just likes threatening Muslims.

            That’s a criminal offence.

            Do you think they can’t find you?

    • But “their” countries won’t take them. Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world, but how many of these so-called “refugees” do you see them taking? No — they know that if they don’t help their own people, that weak-minded “liberals” will let them all in — and thus de-stabilize our democracy.
      But, as “Comox Courtney” says above, Canadians are NOT going to stand quietly by while Prime Mistake Trudeau and his Islamic friends slowly but surely get us “acclimatized” to the idea that our country is no longer our country. Mobile Actor, if you are interested in joining us in our determination to stop “sharia creep”, please check out one of the numerous FB pages that are dedicated to this fight.

      • Actually ME countries do take them……you just pretend not to notice.

        But thank you for the FB info…..they are already being monitored.

  3. Is this exactly the same type of crackpot parties the NDP supports having in the HOCs with their PR to be part of electoral reform. Thanks to the burial of Electoral Reform in this country.

  4. Leah McLaren, Twice in your article you referred to Geert Wilders as an “islamophobe”. I hope that you can take your “profession” of journalism seriously enough to at least look up the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “Islamophobia”. The definition is “an irrational fear of Islam, particularly as an IDEOLOGY.” “Islam” is NOT a religion, it is an “ideology”. And, due to the actions of its own people, to have a fear of it is the most RATIONAL thing possible. “Islam” should be critically examined no less than the Conservative Party of Canada, or the Communist Party of Canada….. You show your ignorance and your bias by referring to the leader of what here in Canada we would refer to as the “opposition” with such a divisive , and inaccurate, term.

  5. A “Pyrrhic victory” refers to one that was, in reality, a loss. That, in the Dutch instant, is far from the truth. It remains to be seen that Rutte will be able to maintain his ‘Euro’agenda, it doesn’t mean that, domestically, (there is strong ‘Nexit’ sentiment rolling around the Netherlands too) or he’s going to be ‘trumped’ or unable to govern. He has a new mandate and term of office, with the likelihood – unless he goes totally tyyrannical to find support in the Dutch parliament. What will possibly fail to pass is his government’s ‘approval’, rejected by a majority of Dutchmen, of a ‘rubber-stamp’ on a Ukrainian membership in the EU.

    That is far from a defeat for anybody, except the Ukraine.

  6. For those of you who are proponents of assimilation in Canada and so anti immigration then truly you yourselves should reflect on who was in this country when the white European settlers arrived and how those original inhabitants were living. If you believe in assimilation, then get rid of your stick and brick homes and erect a tipi, dress in animal skins and start living off the land like the plains First Nations. Just because your ancestors happened to immigrate to this country doesn’t mean you get to decide who else gets to immigrate and how they get to behave in terms of how they worship or what they wear. Your ancestors came here and kept their customs so who are you to tell anyone that they can’t keep theirs as long as they fall within the laws of the country. Enough of your bigotry. If you did any research, you would know that isolation rather than inclusion have caused problems in the countries you have mentioned and bigotry causes isolation.

    • Congratulations, you and Emily win the trophy for the most puerile comment today.