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Netherlands - General Election - 2017

The Netherlands voted on 15 March 2017, and the resulting glass was half empty and half full. Geert Wilders' anti-Islam and anti-EU Party for Freedom (PVV) made a poorer showing in the polls than anticipated, though his party gained five seats over the 15 he won in 2012. Given all the political elements in his favor, including the influx of migrants, fears about the loss of cultural identity, anxiety over recent and potential future terrorist attacks, as well as early polls predicting a significantly stronger showing, this outcome can hardly be seen as a victory.

Wilders managed to pull much of the political discourse further to the right, particularly among the right and centre-right parties such as current Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

The participation rate of about 80 percent was the highest seen in the country for 30 years. Exit polls on election day showed Prime Minister Mark Rutte's liberal VVD party leading the Dutch parliamentary elections, taking a projected 33 seatss, down from 41 at the last vote in 2012. It looked like a victory for the incumbent, but the party would have to reckon with 8 fewer seats in the 150-member lower house.

Wilders' PVV led the conservative Christian Democrats and the liberal Democrats 66 [D66] party, taking just over 12 percent of the vote and 20 seats. Lodewijk Asscher's socialist PvdA took a severe beating, winning only five seats, a staggering loss of 29 seats [this glass is more than half empty]. That defeat, however, paved the way for the Green Left party, a new voice on the left. Green Left party appeared to have made the biggest gains, winning a projected 16 seats, 12 more than in 2012. A four-party coalition made up of the VVD, D66, the Christian Democrats and the Green Left seemed the most likely outcome, but cohabitation of the center right VVD and the exuberantly leftist Greens seemed rather problematic.

The governing party never had a majority in the senate, and to get its program passed it allied with three other parties, each of which demanded concessions. It pushed through ambitious housing reforms and deficit-cutting measures, but those measures had not been popular, even among its own voters. Liberal voters had to swallow excise tax hikes. Labour voters felt their party was implementing the austerity policies of the right. A stagnant economy and high unemployment have not helped. Because the government is centrist, opposition to its policies has scattered voters in every direction.

Geert Wilders, the wild-haired head of the right-wing Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), launched a new manifesto 09 November 2016 that called for the “de-Islamization" of the Netherlands as he leads in the polls to become the next prime minister. Wilders, who has twice appeared in court for inciting hatred in both 2011 and in March 2016, would emerge as the biggest party following the March 2017 elections, if the opinion polls are to be believed. There is a catch though, with most parties stating they won’t go into coalition with Wilders. Wilders' plans have been described as "utterly bizarre and unbelievable" by the leader of the Christian Democratic Appeal, Sybrand van Haersma Buma. "The program will further polarize Dutch society," he said.

It also targets the European Union with the party promising to hold a referendum on the country’s membership in the EU. The PVV is also calling for spending to be increased in the areas of policing and armed forces while they want “no more money for foreign aid, windmills, art, innovation, public broadcasters.” The document, published ahead of a general election in March, calls for the closure of all mosques and Islamic schools, a ban on the Koran, and “no more immigrants from Islamic countries.” A ban on “Islamic headscarves” in public is also proposed, as well as the prohibition of all “Islamic expressions which violate public order.”

The Dutch have become more positive about the European Union, with 46% now thinking membership is ‘a good thing’, according to research by the government’s social policy advisory unit SCP published in September 2016. At the same time, the percentage of people who support a Nexit – the Netherlands pulling out of the EU – has gone down from 24% to 20%, the SCP said.

The far-right Freedom Party topped the polls ahead of 2017 elections, despite the ongoing trial of its leader, Geert Wilders, on charges of inciting racial hatred. Wilders was cleared of similar charges in 2011. The 53-year-old, who had shunned the hearing until it reached its final few days, attended the high-security courthouse near Amsterdam's Schiphol, where he addressed the three-judge bench.

The prosecution charged Wilders with insulting a racial group and inciting racial hatred because of his comments, made at a 2014 rally, about Moroccans living in the Netherlands. At the rally in question, Wilders had asked supporters whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands." After the crowd shouted back "Fewer! Fewer!" Wilders answered: "We're going to organize that."

Wilders said he will close mosques, ban Muslim immigrants and take the Netherlands out of the European Union, if voted into power at a general election in March 2017.

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Page last modified: 19-03-2017 19:47:05 ZULU