The Mainstream Media is Misleading the Public About Dutch Parliamentary Election Results
Last Wednesday's election for the Dutch House House of Representatives had 28 parties vying for seats in the nation's top legislative body. The Party For Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, garnered the most media attention because of its conservative populist, anti-Islam, and Euro-skeptic views. In the months leading up to the election, The PVV was leading by a large margin in the opinion polls.
That was, until the end of February and the beginning of March, when Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) began to catch up and eventually pass the PVV as the highest polling party. A poll from the night before the election showed The PVV taking only 16 seats and being surpassed by the center-left D66 and Christian Democratic Union Party. This uptick in support for the Rutte's VVD was likely due to the Prime Minister taking up some right leaning stances leading up to the election in order to siphon votes from Wilders.
This included a statement about immigrants not assimilating to Dutch society. “If you reject our country fundamentally, I’d rather see you go. Act normal or leave.” This statement garnered a lot of support from the right and gave him a poll boost. What drove Rutte over the edge was his spat with the Turkish government over disallowing Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu from entering the country to encourage Turkish citizens living in the Netherlands to vote on a referendum in Turkey that would change the Turkish government into an executive presidency. This was also hailed by right leaning voters and gave Rutte a major boost in the polls less than a week before the election.
The election itself was won by Rutte's VVD and retained its status as the largest party in the Dutch House of Representatives. It was hailed as a “major victory against the far right” with headlines like “Dutch election: PM Rutte sees off anti-EU Wilders’ challenge” from the BBC and “Dutch elections: Wilders' far-right party beaten, early results show” from CNN. EU Parliamentarians and heads of state like Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande hailed Rutte's victory as a “Victory against extremism.”
However, if one looks at the actual number of seats won (or lost) by each party, the VVD's “victory” wasn't much of a victory at all. In fact it looked more like the establishment managing to temporarily stave off the inevitable takeover of conservative populist parties like the PVV. After looking at the amount of seats held by each party prior to the election and comparing it to the number of seats held after the election, the outcome looks much different than a “victory” by the VVD.
Prior to the election the VVD had 41 seats in the House of Representatives. It was in coalition with the Labor Party, which held 38 seats. The opposition was comprised of numerous parties. The Socialist Party held 15 seats, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) 13 seats, the PVV 15 seats, Democrats 66 (D66) held 12, and the GreenLeft (GL) party held 4 seats. A number of other parties held minimal numbers of seats.
Following the election, the VVD lost 8 seats, bringing its number down to 33, while still retaining its status as the largest party.
Its coalition partner the Labor Party had an abysmal performance and went from 38 to 9 seats. The CDA and D66 both increased their seats to 19. The Socialist Party lost one seat and now holds 14 seats. The GreenLeft party increased their seats from 4 to 14, largely due to its young enthusiastic leader, Jesse Klaver, and his American style rallies. The Party for Freedom increased its seats from 15 to 20 seats, making it the second largest party in the Dutch House of Representatives. A full chart can be seen here.
While the PVV did not perform as well as many predicted (including myself in an article I wrote in early February when the polling data was very favorable for Wilders), they are not the losers in this election. In fact they may have the most to benefit from being the second largest party in parliament now. What observers need to remember is that Prime Minister Rutte's VVD and its coalition partner, the Labor Party, lost seats.
They didn't increase their parliamentary majority. Geert Wilders and his PVV party are becoming a well known political force across the world. His party now has the power and leverage to hold Rutte's feet to the fire. The EU establishment may be celebrating Rutte's “victory” but the election results may prove to only be pyrrhic until the next election.