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Election of the Day: The Netherlands

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Give the fractious nature of Dutch politics, Mark Rutte’s 13 year, 4 different coalitions run was pretty impressive. It came to an end this summer when his most recent coalition collapsed over a dispute about immigration policy, leading to today’s snap election. (Rutte’s socially liberal center-right party, VVD, wanted to place restrictions on family reunification migration to a degree that was apparently unacceptable to some coalition partners.) Rutte is planning to retire from politics, and his party is now led Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, herself an immigrant and asylee from Turkey, who is continuing to advocate for more restrictive immigration policies. Polls have VVD in a tie with Geert Wilders’ late-surging Party for Freedom, his far-right anti-immigrant party that has consistently finished 2nd or 3rd in Dutch elections but has been kept out of coalition governments. Wilder’s campaign for this election seems pretty extreme even by his standards: PVV’s manifesto calls for a full immigration halt, banning/shuttering all Islamic schools and Mosques, banning the publication of the Quran, and withdrawal from the European Union.

There are two other parties that could end up the largest party in parliament. (The Dutch electoral system is straight proportional representation, with a floor of just “one full seat”–at 150 seats, 0.67%, so while the D’Hondt counting method could add an extra seat or two to the top parties, seat totals will track vote totals pretty closely. It’s pretty unlikely any party would get more than one residual seat.) While both the VVD and Wilder’s PVV are polling at just a hair under 20, only a few points behind them is the Labor/Green coalition, under the leadership of former EU climate czar Frans Timmermans. A few points behind that is a new protest party of the Center, “New Social Contract” headed by longtime MP Pieter Omtzigt, formerly of the (now minor) Christian Democratic party. Omtzigt’s appeal is also of the moderately anti-immigration variety, running on what the New York Times characterizes as “novel mix of left-leaning economic policies and right-leaning migration policies.” Until recently they were leading in some polls, and one could conceivably argue the polling patterns suggest their loss has been Wilders’ gain, as the voters put down the methadone and go back for the hard stuff.

In addition to the aforementioned four parties polling between 15-19%, there is a wide array of smaller parties across the political spectrum likely to enter parliament, and potentially at volumes large enough to matter in coalition negotiations. The D66, a socially liberal moderate left party who came in second last time, are likely to come in 5th, the socialists could be next. The Farmer-Citizen Movement, a right-populist party focused on the interests of farmers and the agricultural sector (specifically, against certain environmental regulations they regard as excessively onerous) that did surprisingly well in the Senate elections earlier this year, had been polling in the high single digits but appears to have lost support in the most recent polls (possibly to Wilders’ benefit).

Given the uncertainty and apparent closeness of this election, I will not speculate about likely outcomes or likely coalitions given those outcomes. For more coverage of this election, see The New York Times, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera‘s writeups. Wilders and the PVV not finishing in first place (and, ultimately, out of government) seems like the most important thing to hope for today. Given VVD’s anti-immigrant swing and NSC’s arrival, this appears to be a real backlash-against-immigration election; how far and and how hard that backlash will be, we’ll know soon enough. Polls close in a few hours.

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