Dutch Election: Rutte victorious in a vote of few surprises

By Gaelle Legrand

MARK Rutte has won a fourth mandate from Dutch voters at the general election held in the Netherlands this week.

The leader of the conservative-liberal party VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) topped the poll to little surprise with the Centre Party making do with second place.

But the 54-year-old’s party did manage to win more seats than predicted, with forecasts giving him 35 seats in the 150-seat Parliament.

The benefits scandal, where more than 20,000 families were wrongly accused of child benefits tax fraud, and the Covid-19 crisis were thought to have an impact on the party, which resigned en masse from the the ruling cabinet in January.

Yet, the ballot showed that stability is still essential for the Dutch, and that a coalition with social liberal party D66 will likely be renewed.

With four extra seats in Parliament on the cusp of getting 24 seats altogether, D66’s leader Sigrid Kaag will push for more liberal measures and a move towards the left.

Joost van Spanje of Royal Holloway, a Professor of Politics at London’s Royal Holloway University told Redaction Politics: “Internally, whatever cabinet is going to be formed, D66 will have a bigger role. It will already be progressive, more progressive than it was.

“Externally, D66 will probably cooperate even more with the left parties, and even less, sometimes as it’s now the case, with some right wing parties.”

Founded in 1966 (whose name it refers to), with the aim to democratise the Dutch political system, D66 favours social measures including spending on education and reducing wealth and health inequality.

Pledging for more European cooperation, the centrist party also backs green reforms, and has supported same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Its new leader, Sigrid Kaag, 59, is the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in Rutte’s coalition.

After working for Royal Dutch Shell, she embarked on a career at the United Nations as a Special Coordinator, first for Syria, then for Lebanon, before joining the cabinet.

Elected at the head of D66 last September, Sigrid Kaag has stated her ambitions to become the first Dutch female Prime minister.

Proffesor van Spanje said: “She’s basically the embodiment of the cosmopolitan scene, well versed in all kinds of topics. She has had a great international career, travelling a lot and speaking six languages, highly intelligent, very open and inclusive.”

Although D66 had been part of the coalition since 2017, Sigrid Kaag’s victorious results were somewhat unexpected, as explained by Pr van Spanje.

He said: “I didn’t see it coming, though there were some indications. In the debate, she did very well in the beginning, and the polls right after the debate showed, among those who watched it, that she scored very highly, and people were really swayed to vote D66.”

Rutte’s party VVD will now have to compose with stronger liberal ideas, as well as deciding which other party will be included in the coalition, out of the 37 parties involved in the election.

Having ruled out a cooperation with Geert Wilders’s right-wing PVV (Party for Freedom), the incumbent Prime Minister will not work with Thierry Baudet’s nationalist FvD (Forum voor Democratie) either.

FvD, which was founded in 2016, has been one of the winners on election night, gaining six seats despite the scandals its leader has been embedded in.

A move that can be explained by the violent accounts between the police and anti-lockdown protesters which have marked the country, up to a few days before the election.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a central point in Dutch elections, with many commentators expecting voters to punish the cabinet in the polls for its handling of the sanitary crisis, as the country remains in lockdown and was the last one in the EU to roll out vaccination.

Proffesor van Spanje said: “Forum is the only party that basically mobilises against Coronavirus. According to Thierry Baudet, it is just a flu, with no need to take any measures.

“Also, in a very Trumpian style,  he has cast doubt on the results of the election, on the media and on the elites. He has not shown up for debates and walked out of television shows three times, so he has a very conflictual style of his own.”

New right-wing party JA21, founded in 2020 by two former members of FvD, is the third winner of the election night, with 2.4% of the vote, representing 4 seats in the lower house.

Altogether, the three nationalists parties PVV, FvD and JA21 received more votes than in the last election in 2017, to the detriment of the left and the Greens, which suffered heavy losses this year.

Professor van Spanje said: “The classic parties of the capitalist right and the socialists or social democrats, basically have to adapt or disappear.

“Social democrats almost everywhere [in Europe] are basically imploding and are being replaced by green, social, liberal, libertarian parties, such as D66.

“On the other end, you see that JA21, Forum and PVV, slowly but surely, are eating away from, for example, the Christian Democrats.

“For JA21 as a new party, to get four seats out of nowhere, that’s really extraordinary.”

Although Rutte has promised to build a cabinet as quickly as possible following the results, the likelihood is for a new coalition to be up-and-running in the next few months.

In 2017, the negotiations to form a government took more than seven months, making it a record in Dutch politics.

Professor Joost van Spanje is also an Associate Professor of Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam and the author of ‘Controlling the Electoral Marketplace: How Established Parties Ward Off Competition’.

Featured Image: Minister-president Rutte @Flickr

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