Outgoing Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte appears on his way to a comprehensive victory and a fourth consecutive term in office as the Dutch go to the polls in national elections on Monday, with voting spread over three days due to restrictions. of the coronavirus.
Polls predict that Rutte, who has led three coalition governments of different political backgrounds since 2010, and his center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) will win twice as many parliamentary seats as their closest rival.
Aiming for 36 to 40 seats, the VVD has ruled out working with the second-largest party, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom (PVV) party. Polls suggest that Rutte will need three coalition partners and forming a government could take weeks.
The popular prime minister should win more seats than in the 2017 elections despite violent unrest against the curfew and the resignation of his cabinet in January over a major racist child benefit scandal in which more than 25,000 families were wrongly accused of fraud.
“It has clung to its ‘rally around the flag’ momentum since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Pepijn Bergsen, Chatham House researcher and specialist in the Netherlands. “And Covid has completely pacified the political debate, it has taken all the energy out of politics.”
Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael thinktank said that Rutte, who recently relaxed some coronavirus restrictions, had three key advantages: Politically, he was a “great technician” who also had “genuine personal appeal”, and he was “Teflon: the problems don’t they attach “.
What is the political landscape and how does the system work?
There are 150 deputies in parliament, which means that a government needs 76 seats to form a majority. No party handles this and the Netherlands has been ruled by coalitions for more than a century.
The Netherlands has a pure proportional representation system in which the entire country is in effect a single constituency at the national level. Any party that obtains 0.67% of the national votes is guaranteed a seat.
This has produced a surprising fragmentation of the landscape: a record 37 different parties compete in this election and as many as 15 could enter parliament. Support for the large traditional parties (with the surprising exception of Rutte’s VVD) has fallen dramatically in recent decades.
What other parties are organizing and how will they do it?
Rutte’s two main current coalition partners, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal-progressive D66, are targeting 16-18 and 14-16 seats, respectively. His third partner, the small conservative Christian Union, should get five to seven.
Green Left environmentalists are on their way from 11-13, the Labor Party (PvdA) should bounce back a bit to 11-13 from a disastrous performance in 2017 when it lost three out of four seats, and the Socialist Party could get 11.
After that, the smaller parties expected to win seats include the religious parties, the Party for Animals (PvdD); the 50Plus party for retirees; Denk (Think), who courts mainly Muslim immigrants; and the pro and pan-European Volt movement.
What about the extreme right?
Wilders, who briefly supported Rutte’s first coalition, is expected to win between 12% and 14% of the national vote and roughly the same number of seats as in 2017. His manifesto calls again for the “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands.
He wants a minister for re-emigration, no more refugee permits for Syrians and the army to “take back the streets.” Its stagnation in the polls is mainly due to the fact that its main vote winner, immigration, is not the red button problem it was in 2017.
The flamboyant Thierry Baudet and his Forum for Democracy, which finished first in the provincial elections in 2019, have all but collapsed under charges of racism and anti-Semitism, and Baudet himself has become a Trumpian conspiracy theorist.
What is Rutte’s secret?
He’s a smart trader with a talent for building and maintaining unlikely alliances. He projects the kind of no-nonsense image the Dutch like, and he’s famously refused to let parliament cleaners clean up spilled coffee and do it himself.
Critics say he is more interested in power than principle and has no difficulty pleasing the far right on issues such as immigration, “Dutch values” and integration. But he is rarely out of step with the views of many of his voters.
Rutte still lives in the same part of The Hague where he grew up, he rides his bike to work, goes on vacation with the same friends, is single and, as far as we know, has never been in a relationship. He says he doesn’t have time.
The family has gone through difficult times: during World War II, Rutte’s father and his first wife were interned by the Japanese in Indonesia; she did not survive. The family fled the former colony amid anti-Dutch protests and started over from scratch in The Hague, where Rutte was born. His older brother died of AIDS, a tragedy that he said made him realize that “you only have one chance in life.” He worked for Unilever before becoming junior minister for social affairs in 2002, leader of the VVD party in 2006, and prime minister in 2010.
What are the problems?
This has been a flat campaign, with Covid hitting Dutch politics. There is broad consensus on the government’s handling of the crisis. Other topics discussed included post-pandemic fiscal changes and approaches to the climate crisis.
The VVD’s economically moderate manifesto focuses on the public sector, healthcare, a higher minimum wage, and tax cuts. Socially conservative measures include green road pricing, a refugee quota, and stricter integration requirements for immigrants.
What happens next and what will the next government look like?
Polls close at 9 pm on Wednesday. Once the results are known, the parliament appoints a respected elderly statesman, known as informer, to explore possible coalition permutations with the main parties.
So he informer name a trainer (usually the leader of the largest party, probably Rutte) to begin coalition negotiations. This can easily take a couple of months, although in 2017 it took a record 208 days.
With the CDA and D66 polls slightly lower than in 2017, Rutte will likely again need three partners to secure a majority. Potential candidates include, in addition to the VVD, the Christian Democrats, D66, Labor, the Green Left and the Socialist Party.