Another Fragment in the Rise of Modern Populism

On Wednesday (14.03.2017), the Dutch went to the polls. The options were varied, with 28 parties running for seats in parliament. And like so many political events since the summer of 2016, populism is overshadowing this event. Up until around two weeks ago, the party of Geert Wilders (the Party for Freedom; PVV) was meant to win the most votes, approximately 30%. This was not to be, as the Liberal Party won the election by a wide margin securing 21% in comparison to Wilders with 13%.

What would be spectacular outside of the current, anti-establishment sentiment is that his party program runs to the total length of one side of A4. It mostly focuses on ‘de-islamiz[ation]’ of the Netherlands. Wilders plans to achieve this with, amongst other aspects, a combination of stopping immigration, removing immigrants and making life difficult for Muslims. In addition to this, the PVV is also running on a platform of direct democracy, leaving the EU, lowering the retirement age and increasing defence and security spending. Coupled with his passionate speeches and his “Netherlands First” slogan,

Wilders Party has flirted with power before, joining the coalition in the 2010 elections, which he subsequently removed himself from, forcing new elections in 2012. What complicates the election further is that one week prior to the election, 40% of the Dutch had not made their decision and 70% of the Dutch were willing to vote for a different party to the last election.

The Netherlands have an independent watchdog, which calculates the costs of campaign pledges. All major parties are registered, except the PVV. The peculiarities continue; the membership of the PVV is one, which is Geert. Therefore he can run his party more like his own personal banana republic. The image of a dictator is made complete when he appears in public. Constantly flanked by several security guards, he has been insulated from the real world through police protection since 2004 when an attempt was made on his life.

But if Wilders is a peculiar figure in a peculiar, small country, why does it matter? Well firstly, the Netherlands is the second-largest exporter in the EU, even though it is the only 8th in terms of population, it punches well above its weight, especially in chemicals and agricultural goods. Prior to Brexit, it would have been unimaginable that a country so dependent on exports would leave a trade partnership, but unfortunately that has changed. What the rise of Wilders shows is that even in very equal, very wealthy societies (15th highest GDP per capita in the world), populism can prevail. Similar to Brexit or Trump, the people that will vote for Wilders, will be voting against their own interests. And if this is not enough to make one question the state of the world, the French and German general election in April and September respectively, both have right-wing nationalist parties with a growing supporter base.

Although a populist uprising may have been contained, Wilders did end up with 5 more seats then in the previous election. The election has fractured political power even further. The voters seem to have moved to the smaller parties, which came at a large cost of a Socially Democratic Party, slipping from 25% to just shy of 6%. Therefore Mark Rutte, the candidate for the VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy), will have to try and form a coalition with at least three other parties.

By Tim Knickmann

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