16 March 2017

Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Dutch Voters Turn Back Nationalist Wave

With turnout exceeding 80%, the Dutch electorate has voted against the nationalist Freedom party and its charismatic leader Geert Wilders. Prime Minister Mark Rutte won re-election, and now will cobble together a coalition that excludes the anti-immigrant politicians of the far right. This victory for liberal decency is a good sign for all of Europe, coming as it does ahead of elections in France and Germany. This may be where the populist wave broke and receded, but more likely, this is the first of many victories needed to keep sanity in European politics. As Mr. Rutte said, "the Netherlands, after Brexit and the American elections, said 'whoa' to the wrong sort of populism."

The BBC reports, "With all but two vote counts complete, the prime minister's party has won 33 out of 150 seats, a loss of eight seats from the previous parliament. The Freedom party was in second place on 20 seats, a gain of five, with the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal D66 party close behind with 19 seats each. The Green-Left party also did well, winning 14 seats, an increase of 10. The Labour Party (PvdA), the junior party in the governing coalition, suffered a historic defeat by winning only nine seats, a loss of 29."

With the governing party down eight seats and the Freedom party up five, it may appear at first that the far-right is making progress. However, expectations were that Mr. Wilders would be the new PM with his party having won a plurality of the vote. Instead, he will have to settle for leader of the opposition. A few factors explain the disappointment.

First, Mr. Wilders foolishly declined to appear in two TV debates (a nasty American habit that appears to have spread to the Continent) because his brother Paul had said some awful things about him on the same channel. Never turn down free media is a rule he has yet to learn.

Second, Mr. Rutte's VVD party was helped by the government of Turkey, inadvertently. The Turks are holding a referendum on their own government structure soon, and Turkish politicians wanted to campaign in the Netherlands among the many Turkish citizens living there. This would have allowed Mr. Wilders to complain that the Muslims are working the Netherlands for votes back home, and how much more can the country take? Instead, the Dutch government denied the plane carrying the Turkish would-be campaigners permission to land. The Erdogan government in Ankara is livid, but it took much of the wind out of Mr. Wilders' sails.

Third, one has to believe that the Dutch remain a liberal polity dedicated to the values of the European Community. Most of them voted that way. With more than 8 in 10 voting (the best turn out since the 1980s), it is hard to argue that this election is not a fair representation of the Dutch political mindset. The nativism of Mr. Wilders is not part of the majority in the Netherlands.

It may be a while before Mr. Rutte can announce his cabinet. He will need three coalition partners, and the Labour Party that was his junior partner in the last coalition lost so many seats that new allies are needed. D66 and Christian Democrats have some issues with one another that may need to be finessed, but those two plus the Green-Left add up to a majority.

What is probably most important here is that the Dutch have given reasonable, decent people across Europe a reason to hope that their future does not include the narrow-mindedness of nationalism that incinerated Europe twice in the last century. French and German voters may well be heartened that the loud minority can be shown the door if turnout is big enough. And that, in itself, will boost turnout.

Mr. Wilders is not going to go away; he has promised (threatened) as much. But he won't lead the next Dutch government, or even be a part of it. The next battle against his ilk is April 23, the first round of the French presidential election. One doesn't expect Marine Le Pen and her nasty National Front to finish worse than second, but after the Dutch victory, French liberals may be able to ensure she doesn't finish first.

© Copyright 2017 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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