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Everything You Need to Know About the Dutch Election

Deji of Lagos

Elections in the Netherlands are like IKEA furniture: rich on choice and at first simple to unpack, but then painstakingly complex when you’re trying to put it all together again. 

The election itself will be pretty straightforward: the Dutch system of proportional representation means that the exact percentage of the national vote will carry over to how many seats each party receives. 

But once the votes have been cast, everything gets a bit trickier.

There’s never been a majority government in the Netherlands, and polling suggests that no single party is due to win more than a sixth of the 150 seats available — over half is needed to gain a majority. This year, there are a total of 28 parties competing and, in 2012, 11 parties took a share of the seats. Now, it could take five parties to form a workable coalition. Still with us?

via GIPHY

The election takes place on March 15 next week, but with all the confusion surrounding who will make it into the coalition ring, expect a long wait. On average, it takes 73 days to form a coalition in the Netherlands, but in 1977 it took a staggering 208 days. 

40% of the country is still not sure which way to vote, so anything could happen.

In the meantime, it’s worth understanding the major players. Here are the three political parties to watch, and a little insight on a few more that could end up tipping the balance.

Party for Freedom (PVV)

Slogan: “The Netherlands ours again”.

Nationalism and Islamophobia has seemingly morphed into the face of right-wing populism. In the Netherlands, it’s topped by dry blonde locks slicked back to look like a young Draco Malfoy. Enter Geert Wilders. Starting out as a VVD MP (see the next bit), he became an independent before founding the PVV in 2006.

Surprisingly, he is still the party’s only official member, and is close to leading the polls just days before the election. But evidence suggests that they’re on a downward trajectory — and, historically, the PVV tails off as elections draw closer. But, hey — polls are so 2016.

Wilders is vehemently anti-EU but has one clear campaign priority: the “de-Islamification” of the Netherlands. In his one-page manifesto, he advocates to ban the Koran, close all mosques, and shut down borders. In addition, he would commit zero public money to foreign aid, art, or innovation. Wilders lives under 24 hour police protection after being found guilty of inciting discrimination against Moroccans last December, and appears more often on Twitter than in the public eye. But don’t worry. Although Wilders may very well win the most votes, it’s (pretty much) certain that he will (almost) definitely not become Prime Minister. More on that later.

People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)


Slogan: “Netherlands assured”.

The governing VVD currently has the more seats than anybody else. They’re led by incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who looks a little bit like the guy missing a tooth from The Hangover. Rutte rides to work every day on a bicycle, and the wheels are in motion for him to retain his premiership in any new coalition. Although neck and neck with Wilder in the polls and amid predictions that the VVD will lose a huge quantity of seats, Rutte will no doubt lead discussions to form another liberal majority government without him. 

The VVD is pro-EU, but will not blindly follow without reforms. Even if Wilders fails in his bid, his ideas may still find power: despite economic and social liberalism (pro-free trade and equal rights), shades of populism, especially on immigration, have begun to colour the party. Rutte launched his election campaign with an attack on migrants struggling to integrate, urging them to “act normal or leave”. Sound familiar?

Mark RutteImage: Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Green-Left (GL)


Slogan: “Time for change”

If you like Justin Trudeau, you’ll swoon for Jesse Klaver. Nicknamed the “Jessiah”, Klaver has lead the GL to quadrupling its poll numbers. Whilst Wilders calls Moroccans “scum”, Klaver can claim ancestry through his father. As other parties ramp up anti-immigrant rhetoric, he is unashamedly in favour of accepting more refugees, as a “product of that immigration” himself.

The Guardian reports that his campaign, focused on equality and social justice, is a “movement of empathy”, and claims that “the boy-wonder could be the next Dutch prime minister.” At just 23, Klaver was the youngest ever to be elected to the Social and Economical Council of The Netherlands. Now, aged 30, he hopes to lead GL to their best ever election result. Never before has his party entered government. Not far behind in the polls, that could all change very soon.

But, as you already know, there are 28 cooks in this very crowded kitchen. Here are 10 more parties serving up a storm.

D66 

Leader: Alexander Pechtold
Slogan: “Stronger together, opportunities for everyone”
Need to know: Pro-EU liberal progressives known for leading calls for a more relaxed drug policy - will play an important part in any left-leaning coalition. Think a more chill Tim Farron.

Labour Party (PvdA) 

Leader: Lodewijk Asscher
Slogan: “Forward together”
Need to know: Previously secured a spot in the most recent coalition under the leadership of a nuclear physicist, they’re due to be decimated at the ballot box. Think Nick Clegg with a science degree.

Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) 

Leader: Sybrand van Haersma Buma 
Slogan: “For a country we want to hand on”
Need to know: Socially-conservative, they’re both centrist and influential. Have no doubt - they will be heavily involved in coalition conversations.

Socialist Party (SP) 

Leader: Emile Roemer
Slogan: “Seize power”
Need to know: the party of workers against globalisation. A leftist, less xenophobic version of Geert Wilders’ isolationism.

Party for Animals (PvdD)

Leader: Marianne Thieme
Slogan: “Stick to your ideals”
Need to know: Animal rights first! Thieme once claimed that Adam and Eve were vegetarians to a national newspaper.

We’re not done yet...

Christian Union (CU)

Leader: Gert-Jan Segers
Slogan: “Hopefully realistic”
Need to know: After translation, they certainly possess the most entertaining slogan. It’s also worth noting that whilst they’re the most liberal non-secular party, they still oppose abortion.

50PLUS

Leader: Henk Krol
Slogan: “Because older people won’t put up with it anymore”
Need to know: Representing pensioners, they want to reduce the retirement age to 65.

Reformed Political Party (SGP)

Leader: Kees van de Staaij
Slogan: “Vote for life”
Need to know: The party of fundamentalist Christians, they take the Bible very seriously. They believe women have no place in politics.

Denk (Think)

Leaders: Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürka 
Slogan: “The Netherlands all of ours again”
Need to know: Run solely by people from immigrant backgrounds, they advocate for a “racism register” to track the use of hate speech from elected officials. 

Niet Stummers (Non-Voters)

Leader: Peter Plasman
Slogan: “If you don’t vote because you don’t believe, you’re good with us” 
Need to know: The party for voters who don’t vote. They promise that they will leave vacant every seat they win, to represent the interests of the apolitical. So non-voters will vote for them to not vote. Simple!

Most of the conversation around the Dutch election will focus on Geert Wilders. After Brexit and Trump, will he provoke another domino to fall in Europe?

But despite the inevitable media theatre, it’s important to highlight that it’s a fragmentation of the vote, rather than a massive increase in support, that could lead his Freedom party to victory. Despite this, Wilders will not find power. Even if he does receive the largest vote share, it seems likely he’ll be frozen out: every single important political party has pledged not to work with him. 

The Dutch election is the first of three massive elections this year that could decide the fate of the European Union. Populism might not win the day in the Netherlands just yet, but its epilogue might shift the terms of debate. Then it’s onto the sequels: France, Germany, and potentially Italy too. “Many of my colleagues are copying our thoughts”, Wilders recently said, commenting on the notable shift of mainstream politics to his own right-wing extremist edge. As more elections loom, the temptation towards easy isolationism must be resisted at every turn. The next few days are significant: they may very well set the course for the next few months.