Just the Facts: Dutch Parliamentary Elections, 15 March 2017

Parliamentary elections took place in the Netherlands on Wednesday, 15 March 2017.  The centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the centre-left Labour Party had been in coalition since October 2012, with VVD party leader, Mark Rutte, serving as Prime Minister.  On Thursday, 16 March, with 96 per cent of the vote counted, the VVD were assured of once again being the largest party, returning 33 seats.

Background

The lower chamber of the Dutch Parliament, the Tweed Kamer, is comprised of 150 seats, meaning that a government requires 76 seats to form a majority.  Elections for the Tweede Kamer take place every four years, except in the case of a government collapsing.  A direct proportional representation system means that seats are allocated on the basis of percentage of votes gained by parties in a single, nationwide constituency.  There is no threshold in terms of a minimum number of votes required by parties to be elected to the Parliament, which means that any party which wins 0.67 per cent of the national vote is certain of a seat.

Coalition governments are common, with the Netherlands having been governed by coalitions for over a century.  In recent decades, support for the three main parties traditionally in government – the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the centre-left Labour Party (PvdA), and the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) – has dropped.  This has been accompanied by a rise in support for smaller and single-issue parties in an increasingly fragmented political landscape.  A total of 28 political parties contested yesterday’s elections, and up to 14 of them were expected to win seats.

In recent decades, Dutch elections have been dominated by the issues of immigration and European integration and these were once again central in the 2017 elections, informing much of the debate.

Geert Wilders’ party, the far-right and anti-EU Party for Freedom (PVV), was forecasted to poll strongly ahead of the election.  Mr Wilders has vowed to take the Netherlands out of the EU, ban the Qur’an and close down mosques.  All the major political parties ruled out entering into coalition with the PVV prior to the election.

In a televised debate, Mr Wilders criticised Prime Minister Rutte for failing to take stronger action in the diplomatic dispute between the Netherlands and Turkey.  The dispute had begun when a Turkish Minister was not permitted to enter the Netherlands, due to security concerns, to address rallies in support for a Turkish referendum which, if passed, would expand the powers of the Turkish President.  Prime Minister Mark Rutte was considered by viewers to be the winner of the televised debate, according to Dutch national news agency, ANP.  The debate, which took place 36 hours before the election, was considered as being critical as polls published in the week of the election showed that 54 per cent of the electorate were yet to decide how they would vote.

Results

With 96 per cent of votes counted, turnout at the election was 80.2 per cent.  The VVD is assured of once again being the largest party; it is expected to lose 8 seats but still return 33.  Mr Wilders’ PVV is forecast to be the second largest party (20 seats), followed by the CDA (19 seats) and liberal-centrist D66 (19 seats).  The left and pro-EU GreenLeft (GL), led by 30-year old Jesse Klaver, experienced a dramatic rise in support; the party is expected to return 14 seats, up from 4 in the last elections.  The Socialists (SP) are predicted to lose 1 seat, also returning 14.

The PvDA, the VVD’s former coalition partner experienced a collapse in support.  The party, which European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans belongs to, is expected to see a decrease in seats from 38 to a projected 9.  The position of Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also belongs to the party, as President of the Eurogroup is dependent on whether the PvDA is part of the new ruling coalition and he is re-appointed as Finance Minister.

There are also a number of other smaller parties expected to be elected to the Tweed Kamer, with the official results to be published on 21 March.

Implications

Speaking at the VVD’s election-night celebrations, party leader and incumbent Prime Minister Rutte declared it an “evening in which the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said ‘stop’ to the wrong kind of populism”.

Mr Rutte received congratulations from many European leaders, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who welcomed the result as a vote for “free and tolerant societies in a prosperous Europe.”

The VVD will now enter into coalition talks in order to form a government; these discussions are likely to take some time, possibly weeks or months.

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