Significance of the Dutch Election
by Roel van de Pol
Voters in the Netherlands elected a new House of Representatives on March 15. I think that what stands out about the election is, first of all, that the ruling coalition lost big time, especially the social democrats. VVD (the “conservative liberal” People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), and PvdA (the social-democratic Labor Party) together lost nearly half of their seats, but PvdA took most of the heat and is almost decimated. It’s a scenario similar to what happened to the social-democratic party PASOK in Greece. This indicates that people are fed up with how things are going. The government took office on a “social” platform, and they are now paying the price for piously imposing the EU austerity program.
While the fascist PVV (Party for Freedom) of Geert Wilders did not win as many votes as expected, it’s also true that the VVD has moved a lot to the right. I think they remained the biggest party–rather than losing this position to the PVV–largely because they basically copied the PVV’s rhetoric in the months before the elections. Prime Minister Rutte declared in January that “everybody should just act normal”–meaning that everyone should adopt his view of what amounts to “normal Dutch” behavior. His government’s “strong stance” on Turkey last week probably also contributed to winning back some of the votes that would have otherwise gone to Wilders’ PVV.
The vote was very split. To me, this indicates, most of all, a lack of alternatives. The socialist SP (Socialist Party, former Maoists) gained some popularity in the 2006 elections, then lost nearly half their votes in 2010, mostly back to the social-democratic PvdA. Its vote share was stable in the latest election and they are now the biggest party on the left, with 9.1 percent, but they were unable to take advantage of the fall of social-democracy. GroenLinks (GreenLeft, a 1989 merger of four left-wing parties including the Communist Party), now a centrist-Green liberal party, jumped from 2.3 to a historical 9% of the votes and is the biggest winner.
Globally, while the social-democrat PvdA lost 19.1 percentage points and the VVD 4.2, the far right gained 3%, center parties CDA (Christian-Democrats) and D66 (left-liberals) both 4%, and some extra 7% went to smaller one-issue parties like PvdD (Party of the Animals), 50+ (focused on people aged above 50) and DENK (multiculturalist). So with some caution we can conclude that, while the right-to-far-right remains more or less stable, with the far-right exploiting a discredited right, the liberal center gained three quarters of the social-democratic loss and the remaining quarter is now voting for minor one-issue parties. This means that people who were hitherto looking to the left for alternatives are now looking to the center, or don’t know where to look.
So in general I think the cultivation and propagation of racism by bourgeois forces has partly but not entirely succeeded in capturing popular discontent, leading them to PVV–which has gained a lot of new votes, even if fewer than expected. Meanwhile, genuine leftist forces seem to have difficulty in providing a convincing counter-narrative and an effective strategy, causing the vote to split over everything that at least seems a little different from those who were in power before. In any case, I think the euphoria we are experiencing here about the less-than-expected rise of the PVV’s Geert Wilders, while justified, diverts attention from the main issues of a discredited government, an imploding social-democracy, and growing opportunities for a left that hasn’t yet found a way to grasp them.