Just new packaging?

As noted in a previous article, the elections in the Netherlands mean more than the continuation of right-wing populism. Conventional parties, as well as newcomers, have prevailed as right-wing populism is destined to the opposition, however, coming in second is not the same as losing.

“I hope that tomorrow, those non-Dutch journalists that came here to say how crazy we’ve become, have to tell their editors: ‘We’ve booked some expensive hotels, but the Netherlands stayed healthy, there were a few other interesting developments though.'”

These were Alexander Pechtold, first on the list of the progressive Democrats (D66), his words. Yesterday I posted a piece here concerning the bifurcated view that many non-Dutch journalists seem to have, paying attention to the ‘Will the Netherlands be the next domino of populism’ sentiment, seemingly forgetting that, as Pechtold noted, there is more happening; we see a Bernie-esque movement gaining traction fast, we see a right that promises to be ‘truly’ classically liberal and we see a hunkering for stability as the centrist parties gain popularity. As of the 16th of March, headlines are reading ‘Populists appear to fall short […]’ and ‘Rutte beats anti-islam leader Wilders‘, Rutte has won the elections, Wilders didn’t. But has right-wing populism really failed? 

Finishing as the clear winner in terms of the amount of seats is Mark Rutte’s liberal party, carrying 33 seats. Wilders’ freedom party carries 20 after which we find Pechtold’s pro-Europe Democrats and Buma’s conservative Cristian Democrats, both at 19 seats. Trailing are the progressive Green Left and the more traditional and euroskeptic Socialist party, each winning 14 seats. The Labor party wound up with a record low 9 seats.

The established parties will be joined by two newcomers; DENK (“think”), who won three seats and have taken an anti-Wilders, populist, media-bashing approach. Safe to say, they embody everything that is wrong with Wilders’ freedom party, the difference being that their political views are perpendicular to the PVV>

Forum for Democracy (FvD), the anti-EU, right-wing ‘intellectual’ party, promising to bare the ‘system’ from the inside has also won two seats in parliament.

The gist

The true winner, however, is the progressive Green Left under Jesse Klaver; quadrupling its number of seats and now a force to be reckoned with. Seats for the anti-elitist, anti-EU Forum for Democracy are remarkable as well. I consider these developments the result of a healthy democracy – ironic, since Forum for Democracy claims it’s unhealthy.

After all, one can argue – as I am – that Wilders lost, since he didn’t win enough seats to have any authority in upcoming negotiations, and Rutte won, looking forward to a third term as prime-minister. Compared to the projected polls on Wednesday 15, the results were a little off. Rutte’s last-minute jump can be explained by Wilders’ absence in those crucial last weeks and possibly the still prevalent ‘taboo’ of voting for Wilders, but he has mostly Erdogan to thank. His formal and professional handling of such a diplomatic incident has improved his reputation considerably. Rutte then sidelined Wilders spectacularly by noting that governing is not ‘tweeting on the couch’.

One easily forgets that all these developments were due to Wilders’ Freedom party – also a result of a healthy democracy. The ‘new right’ aims to fill the gap on the right between Wilders and Rutte, now that the liberal party has shifted to the left. Jesse Klaver’s progressive left fights back against Wilders’ anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric, by promoting diversity and solidarity, in the process persuading many youngsters to vote.

Besides all these new ideologies and the fact that more people than ever before are interested in politics, many established parties actually partly adopted Wilders’ far-right views on immigration and the Islam. Especially Sybrand Buma from the centrist Christian Democrats has tried to voice a more sensible conservative sound. Rutte, notably, posted an open letter stating that all ‘who do not take note of our values should act normal or leave’. 

One can thus argue that although Wilders will most certainly not govern, his populist rhetoric has sparked the creation of new parties and ideology’s and made subject of such things as immigration and the ‘Islamization of the Netherlands’. The first being the healthy development of an open democracy. The second a disproportionately featured subject that – as I see it – takes away from more important topics such as climate change and the economy. Wilders can thus keep on tweeting from his couch and Rutte can be prime-minister again. Take note, however, that coming in second in a playing field that comprises of more than twenty parties, is not the same as losing.

Author: RVorster

FInd me at www.rexgraham.net or occasionally at www.eatprayvote.com.

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