By Tash Shifrin | 14 March 2017
The 2017 general election results show the conservative VVD finishing well ahead of far right racist Geert Wilders’ PVV – as the eve of election polling had suggested.
But the PVV’s vote has increased since the last general election in 2012. Results: VVD 21.3%, PVV 13.1%, CDA 12.5%, D66 12%, Socialists 9.2%, Green Left 8.9%, PvdA (centre left) 5.7%, plus smaller parties. Another far right racist formation, the FvD led by Thierry Baudet, took 1.8% of the vote gaining two MPs for the first time.
It is a blow to Wilders’ hopes that he has not taken first place. We discuss what the PVV’s vote – and Wilders’ influence on wider politics – means in our election preview analysis, below.
But the starkest result of the election is the collapse of the vote for the Labour-style, centre left PvdA, after five years in coalition government with the VVD.
Although the VVD’s position has also been weakened since 2012 and it has lagged behind the PVV in opinion polls for most of the last two years, the conservative VVD staged a late recovery to win – it is possible that distaste in the Netherlands for a Trump-style candidate might have pulled some voters away from Wilders.
The extent of the centre left’s catastrophic fall is clearest in the multiracial industrial city of Rotterdam where in 2012 the PvdA came first with a whopping 32% of the vote, ahead of the VVD on 20.4%. The PVV took 13.3% of the city’s vote last time.
This time, the PvdA took only 6.4% in Rotterdam, barely a fifth of its previous vote. Rutte’s VVD beat the PVV into second place in the city by the slimmest of margins – 16.4% to 16.1%.
But Rotterdam shows how discontent with the mainstream parties can produce polarisation to the left as well as to the right. Although Wilders picked up nearly 3 additional percentage points, the main gains were for the Green Left (up from 2.6% to 11.1%) and the new pro-multicultural Denk party which took 8.1% in the city.
Similarly in Amsterdam, the PvdA’s vote crashed from 35.4% to just 8.4%. The biggest beneficiary was the Green Left, which soared from 5.4% to take first place with 19.3%.
All eyes are on the fortunes of far right racist populist Geert Wilders and his PVV party in the Netherlands’ general election on Wednesday 15 March – but it is worth looking beyond the headlines and putting the figures in perspective.
Here we outline what Wilders’ election results will mean and look both at the nature of the PVV itself and its impact on wider politics.
Donald Trump’s victory in the US and the near miss in Austria’s presidential elections for Norbert Hofer of the racist FPÖ party have shown the dangerous growth of the far right – a phenomenon that we can see across much of Europe.
And in France, fascist Marine Le Pen threatens to take the top spot in the first round of the presidential elections in April, and to be a serious contender in the second round.
These developments have given a boost to racist and fascist parties across Europe – and there is a gleeful section of the rightwing media trumpeting the Dutch elections as the next stop in a triumphal far right tour.
Wilders is certainly aiming for first place at the ballot box, and he might succeed – he has topped opinion polls in the Netherlands for most of the past couple of years, although a slight fall in recent polls has put the PVV just below the mainstream conservative VVD party.
Clearly a win for Wilders would be bad news, giving further heart to Europe’s racist and fascist parties. And whether he takes first place or not, Wilders’ vote looks set to go up, compared with the last general election in 2012.
But it is important to put the PVV’s vote into some perspective – the electoral system and the wide spread of competing parties means that even if the PVV does come first, it would do so with only a small minority of the total vote. The overwhelming vote in the Netherlands will be for parties other than the PVV.
The impact of a PVV win would come from giving renewed emphasis to the growth of the far right across Europe and the US.
And, as with other parties on the racist populist far right, the PVV’s success should be measured not only in raw electoral terms but also by the more subtle but very important measure of how far Wilders has succeeded in dragging mainstream politics to the right, and towards his own racist agenda.
Who is Wilders and what is the PVV?
Wilders has long been the poster boy of the international Islamophobic far right. Across Europe, racists have been inspired by the successes of the PVV, whose platform has been nakedly based on anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism.
In 2010 when UKIP peer Lord Pearson invited Wilders to show the anti-Muslim film Fitna in Britain’s Houses of Parliament, the racist and fascist thugs of the English Defence League demonstrated outside in his support.
Wilders’ prominence as an anti-Muslim ideologue has made him a central figure for racists across Europe – and beyond. He has received funding from US far right Islamophobic organisations, including the Middle East Forum run by Daniel Pipes.
Wilders and the PVV targeted immigrants as well as Muslims. In 2012 the party launched a “helpline” soliciting complaints about Eastern European migrants, asking, “Do you have problems with people from Central and Eastern Europe?”
And in December, Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination against Dutch people of Moroccan origin, after staging a rally in 2014 where he encouraged supporters in to chant demands for “fewer Moroccans” before pledging: “We’ll organise that.”
This did not deter him from repeated denunciations of “Moroccan scum” in his general election campaign this time around.
Wilders is a far right racist populist – he comes from a conservative background and the PVV is not a fascist organisation. As with Trump, Wilders’ populism is a “thin ideology”, with his social and economic positions shifting from time to time in a bid to catch votes. His party is in fact a shell – the PVV’s only formal member is Wilders himself.
Like other populist leaders, he poses as an anti-establishment, anti-elite figure. But Wilders has been part of the political establishment for decades.
He stepped into the political arena in 1990 as an assistant to the then leader of the conservative VVD, becoming a VVD councillor and then an MP himself in 1998. He remained with the VVD until 2004, when he was expelled after trying to shift the party rightwards and set up the PVV as his own vehicle.
Wilders’ increasingly high profile across Europe and his successes in the Netherlands where he has been the frontrunner in opinion polls for much of the past two years have come despite a significant shift further to the right.
The VVD politician turned PVV leader had for many years distanced himself from fascist organisations, including the Front National in France and the EDL’s street fighters, saying, “We’ll never join up with the fascists.”
But in 2013 he stepped over the line, announcing a tie-up with Le Pen’s FN to create a new fascist and far-right bloc in the European Parliament.
Wilders’ policies in this election are crudely racist. They include closing down mosques in the Netherlands and banning sales of the Qur’an. He also wants to seal the country’s borders, with “zero new asylum seekers” and a ban on Muslim migrants.
The PVV and politics in the Netherlands
Wilders is the headline figure in these elections largely due to the collapse of the traditional centre left social democratic and centre right conservative parties since the last election in 2012.
The PVV secured just 5.9% of the votes and nine MPs in the 2006 election. But in 2010 that vote had jumped to 15.4%, giving the PVV 24 MPs. It fell back to 10.1% of votes and 15 MPs in 2012.
The Dutch system of directly proportional representation means that ten or a dozen parties will be represented in parliament, with the bulk of the vote shared between the largest five or six.
At the last general election in 2012, the result showed the strength of the traditional parties of the centre left and centre right. The conservative VVD won first place with 26.6% of the vote, narrowly beating the centre left, social democratic PvdA, loosely equivalent to the Labour Party in Britain, on 24.8%.
With these main centre parties accounting for more than half of the vote between them, the PVV came in third on 10.1%, just ahead of the leftwing Socialist Party’s 9.7%. Two other parties – the Christian democrat CDA and the D66 democrats – each beat the 8% mark.
But as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, voters have turned away from the centre parties, with politics becoming increasingly polarised.
In the Netherlands, discontent with the mainstream parties has been exacerbated by the fact that the VVD and PdvA combined to form a bizarre left-right coalition government.
For many months, opinion polls regularly showed Wilders’ PVV in first place, hovering around the 20% mark.
On the eve of the election, the latest opinion polls showed the VVD in first place, but with its vote down on its 2012 result to 17%. The PvdA had crashed dramatically to around 7%, and Wilders’ PVV was showing in second on 14%.
The CDA was on 13% with D66 on 12%. On the left, the Socialists were on 10%, while the Green-Left party also grown from discontent with the centre, with 11% in the latest opinion poll.
Pollsters reported that many voters remained undecided and were leaving their decision until election day.
The election will show how far Wilders’ vote has risen since 2012. But it is likely that even if Wilders does top the poll, his vote looks set to be some way short of 20% – this is far below the level of support that Trump, Hofer or the fascist Le Pen are able to mobilise.
Wilders and the mainstream
But raw numbers don’t encapsulate all his gains. Wilders has succeeded in dragging mainstream politics further to the racist right.
As the Netherlands heads for the polls VVD leader and current prime minister Mark Rutte, who has sworn not to form a coalition with Wilders, is seeking to tap the climate of Islamophobia that Wilders has stirred up.
It is this that lies behind the ban on Turkish politicians entering the Netherlands to campaign among those eligible to vote in Turkey’s forthcoming referendum. No one on the left can support Turkey’s repressive president Erdogan, but we should be clear that Rutte’s move is aimed at stealing Wilders’ anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim thunder.The VVD has been tail-ending Wilders’ racism for years, readily scapegoating the Netherlands’ ethnic minorities. Here is a campaign poster from 2014: “In Rotterdam, we speak Dutch,” it declares.
Rutte himself kicked off his election campaign in January by demanding that immigrants should “behave normally or go away”.
Shamefully, the centre left PvdA is also fishing in the same pool. Leader Lodewijk Asscher says his party stands for “progressive patriotism” and he wants to crackdown on migrant workers.
Such political concessions do nothing to tackle the rise of Wilders and the PVV. Instead they reinforce his message. This is the new climate of political debate in the Netherlands.
Whether Wilders secures first place or not, we should remember it is not just the raw results at the ballot box that matter – the figures will be well below the standards set by Trump, Hofer and Le Pen. But there is an urgent need – in Europe and the US – to counter the increasing influence of his poisonous anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim racist ideas.
• There will be anti-racist demonstrations in London and many other European cities on 18 and 19 of March to mark the UN international day against racism. Find out more here.