(In case you missed part I, you can find it here.)
The Netherlands goes to the polls on Wednesday, the first time a Dutch parliament has run its full term since 2002. At the last election, the two largest parties (by a considerable margin) were the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), right-leaning liberals, and the centre-left Labour Party, with 26.6% and 24.8% of the vote respectively.
Voting in the Netherlands is straight proportional representation (D’Hondt) across the whole country, so with their narrow majority of the total vote, those two parties between them won a narrow majority of seats – 79 out of 150. After some post-election haggling they agreed to form a coalition government, with VVD leader Mark Rutte continuing as prime minister.
Since 2012, however, the opinion polls have largely been dominated by the party that came third (with 10.1%) in that election, the Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders.
As I said this morning, the PVV is a little different from the typical European neo-fascist party. It doesn’t have the same attachment to traditionalism; it’s more likely to at least pay lip service to things like feminism, gay rights and free trade. Its counterparts are the likes of Norway’s Progress Party, Britain’s UKIP, the Paulite libertarians in the United States, and of course our own Cory Bernardi. Activists in these parties see themselves, apparently with complete sincerity, as warriors for freedom.
But freedom, by their lights, is only for white people. The common bond between the PVV and the more traditional far right is their virulent xenophobia. Wilders’s hatred of Islam in particular borders on the pathological: he describes it as a Nazi-like ideology rather than a religion, and promises to ban the Koran in the Netherlands.
The PVV is also radically Europhobic, more so than France’s National Front; Wilders supports withdrawal not just from the eurozone, but from the EU itself.
So it’s understandable that teeth were set on edge last year when the PVV opened up a wide margin in the polls over its rivals, reaching the mid-20s. (Wikipedia has its usual handy summary of the polls, but beware the numbers are projected seats in parliament: multiply by 2/3 to get percentages.)
Nonetheless, even with a quarter of the vote, that means three-quarters were going somewhere else, and the other parties – with a fortitude that Australia could learn from – made it clear that they would not enter a coalition with Wilders. And as that message sunk in, voters started to wonder why they should waste their vote on a party that was clearly not going to get into government.
The latest polls accordingly show Rutte’s VVD back in the lead, and on track to put together a majority coalition with Labour, the Christian Democrats and the left-liberal party D66.
As readers may now be sick of hearing, electoral systems matter. The Netherlands, to my mind, has one of the best in the world, and it consistently produces consensus governments and parliaments that reflect the balance of public opinion.
If the United States had the Netherlands’ system, Donald Trump would never have become more than a minority figure. If the Netherlands had the US system, Wilders would probably be on his way to becoming president.
The media, however, mostly shy away from such subtleties, and enormous amounts of angst have been expressed over the possibility that Wilders will “win” the election – by which is meant no more than that he would be leader of the largest party. (In fact, he would actually be the largest party, since he is legally PVV’s only member; the whole thing is run as a personal fiefdom. Fascists don’t do democracy.)
Going by the latest polls, that seems unlikely. But even if it happens, it will not give the Netherlands a Wilders government, or indeed any government very different from the ones it is used to.