Analysis

The Geert Wilders' Soufflé: How the Dutch Populist Propaganda Collapsed

Wilders' loss just goes to show: the Netherlands remains a country with a complex society and a mainly moderate character that is not receptive to extremism.

Geert Wilders. The soufflé has collapsed.
REUTERS/Dylan Martinez, Tomer Appelbaum

The morning after the Dutch elections, when it turned out that the battle between Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Tweede Kamer (lower house of parliament) member Geert Wilders had ended in a 33:20 result in favor of Rutte, some Dutch analysts compared the leader of Holland’s extreme right wing to a soufflé. This egg-based dish, inflated by the hot air of hate, Islamophobia, calls for shutting the borders to foreigners, for closure of mosques and with comparisons of the Koran to Mein Kampf, collapsed right after coming out of the oven.

In public opinion polls taken between December 11 and 18 last year, three months before the elections, some pollsters gave Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) between 33 and 36 seats in parliament, and most people in the Netherlands believed that with that kind of victory Wilders would have to become a senior partner in any coalition government.

And then the erosion set in. People in the Netherlands read about companies considering moving their activity and offices from London to Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels after the Brexit vote; they saw what went on in the White House in the early weeks of the Trump administration (toward which Wilders did not conceal his admiration) and decided this was not for them.

Greens
FRANCOIS LENOIR/REUTERS

“Ultimately, we’re a nation of merchants”, says Eric Baumel, who manages a hotel in central Amsterdam. “Most of the anti-establishment Dutch people who are untainted by racism but wanted to vote against old-style politics pulled back at the last minute out of fear of risking their livelihoods.”

Many newspapers, such as NRC Handelsblad and Trouw, noted in their editorials that the Netherlands remains a country with a complex society and a mainly moderate character that is not receptive to extremism.

No matter how “soufflé” Wilders looks at the numbers, claiming, as he did in responding to the media, that his party grew (with eight more seats than the previous election), the result he achieved is lower both in comparison to his party’s expectations and to past achievements. Seven years ago his party won 24 seats in parliament. Moreover, he got some “spit in the eye,” as described by an overjoyed activist in the DENK party (meaning “think” in Dutch and “equality” in Turkish). This party of migrants, set up by Tunahan Kuzu and Selcuk Ozturk, two political activists with origins in Turkey, won three seats in parliament.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte
Patrick Post/AP

If that weren’t enough, one could certainly add one more item to the list of strikes against Wilders. This is the remarkable achievement by someone who could be described as his antithesis, Jesse Klaver, a 30-year-old son of a Moroccan migrant dubbed by local media the “Benelux Justin Trudeau” for his charisma and similarity to Canada’s prime minister. Klaver, a talented speaker and perhaps the clearest voice against racism and xenophobia to address young Dutch people in the current elections, led the left-wing Green party, the GroenLinks, to its biggest ever victory, with 14 seats in parliament, compared to only four in the last one. This party received the majority of votes in Amsterdam.

The achievement of the Green party, which was formed after the amalgamation of other parties such as the remnants of the communist party and other radical parties, should find expression in the formation of the new coalition, which King Willem-Alexander will ask Rutte to undertake. It will be the first time the new king, crowned in 2013 after the abdication of his mother, Queen Beatrix, performs this task. He will also be the first king to be denied the right to give advice on the coalition he prefers. That right was taken from the royal house in 2012 and given to the heads of parties in parliament, who appoint an observer to carry out this duty.

Rutte did come out on top, but his VVD party lost eight seats and his senior partner in the current coalition, the PvdA labor party, suffered its greatest rout since it was formed after World War II, plummeting from 38 seats to nine. One of the reasons for this, according to Dutch observers, is their partnership with the “liberals” and the personality of Rutte, who overshadowed the Labor leaders, making the party irrelevant.

The incoming Dutch parliament will be more divided than ever, with 13 parties finding representation, in contrast to 11 in the previous one and 10 in the one before that. Aside from Rutte’s party, which garnered 21 percent of the votes, no party mustered more than 14 percent. Thus, an agreement will need to be reached with three or four parties in order to form a coalition government, which requires the support of 76 members. One of the problems in this attempt, for example, is the fact that two of the natural partners for a coalition, the social-liberals (D66) with 19 seats and the Christian-Democrats (CDA), also with 19 seats, are historically totally opposed to each other on the issue of euthanasia.

 Geert Wilders
ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP