Populism not gone but more divided in Dutch politics

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Though politicians from the Netherlands and abroad welcomed the outcome of the Dutch elections as a firm “ho” (stop in Dutch) to the rise of populism, a closer look indicates that Dutch populism is far from stopped, but more divided, experts told Xinhua.

Dutch politics“After the Brexit and Donald Trump winning the U.S. Presidential elections, everyone was looking at us,” outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in his victory speech on Wednesday in The Hague.

“This evening, the Dutch people said ‘ho’ to the wrong kind of populism,” Rutte said.

“Scary words by Rutte,” responded far-right populist party PVV leader Geert Wilders.

“Does he mean that there are good and bad populists? I do not consider myself a populist. Rutte suggests that bad populists are half-Nazis. I do not know what he means,” Wilders said.

Other political leaders used the same words as Rutte, like Alexander Pechtold of the leftist liberals D66 and Jesse Klaver of the green left GroenLinks.

“The sound of populism has stopped in the Netherlands,” said Pechtold. “Populism has not had a breakthrough in the Netherlands,” added Klaver.

Considering the PVV as a far-right populist party and the rightist liberals VVD beating it by a landslide, 33 compared to 20 seats, the conclusion of Rutte, Pechtold, Klaver and others seemed right.

However, there are more populist parties, with the Forum for Democracy and migrant-party DENK debuting in the House of Representatives with 2 and 3 seats respectively.

“If you add the amount of seats of these parties, you get a total of 25 seats,” Gerrit Voerman, professor of Development and functioning of the Dutch and European party system at the University of Groningen, explained to Xinhua.

That is still less than the VVD, but a substantial amount, which is much more than the 15 seats the PVV had in 2012 and comparable with the 24 seats Wilders had in 2010.

Henk te Velde, professor of Dutch History at the Leiden University Institute for History, emphasizes on the distinction between populism and Wilders.

“Populism is present everywhere in Europe and won’t disappear,” he told Xinhua. “Wilders just had a bad campaign and a bad result. However, there seems to be kind of a limit of people who feel attracted by populism. It will not grow endlessly.”

DENK is the immigrant answer to Wilders. The party was founded by Tunahan Kuzu and Selcuk Ozturk, two Turkish-Dutch members of the House of Representatives, who left the PvdA in November 2014, with non-discrimination as their distinctive issue.

“The success of DENK is partly explainable by the fall of the PvdA, which traditionally had a large amount of immigrant voters,” Te Velde said.

“You can also partly explain it by the more extreme rightist climate on immigrants and Islam. A large group finds themselves treated as second class citizens and feel themselves only represented by this emancipation party.”

The Forum voor Democratie (Forum for Democracy), transformed from a think tank into a political party, is like the PVV, releasing hardline stands on closing the borders, leaving the EU and introducing binding referenda.

“With the PVV not having the momentum, there was room for other parties like the Forum voor Democratie,” Te Velde explained.

“But there is more,” said Voerman, who co-wrote the book “Populism in the Polder” on the entrance of populism in Dutch politics.

“Mainstream parties took over themes of the PVV and that partly explains the success of the VVD and the CDA. Rutte profited from the row with Turkey by taking a clear stand.

“While CDA focused on the national identity in the campaign. Their profiles became more extreme. Populism has not been reduced, but has been spread over more parties,” Voerman said.

In the diplomatic row with Turkey, Rutte prevented Turkish ministers from campaigning in the Netherlands.

Christian Democrats CDA leader Sybrand Buma said during the campaign that he wanted to abolish the double nationality of immigrants and that children on school should be obliged to learn the national anthem Wilhelmus. Both parties scored on these PVV themes.

“The mainstream parties have become more nationalistic,” Matthijs Rooduijn, political sociologist and assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Utrecht University, said to Xinhua. “Their views have moved towards the PVV, especially on immigration and the Dutch identity. That’s new.”

Rooduijn named the open letter by Rutte in several national newspapers in January this year as an example.

Although Rutte didn’t specifically speak about refugees of foreigners in his letter, he wrote that “people who fundamentally reject our land should leave”.

“And it is not only about campaign remarks, but also about policy,” Rooduijn added. “As the VVD wants terrorists with the Dutch nationality to lose their passport. But that is against human rights. And the CDA wants to abandon the financing of mosques and Islamic organizations by foreign governments.”

“I don’t mean the VVD and the CDA are as radical as the PVV, but the wrong populism is certainly not halted in the Netherlands,” Rooduijn continued. “And we must not forget that the PVV still won seats and that the Forum voor Democratie is also a pretty nationalistic party.”

Compared to the polls of last year, the PVV result was certainly disappointing for the party. In the polls of late December last year the anti-Islam party and anti-Europe party still was by far the biggest with a predicted 31 to 36 seats. However, in recent months the PVV dropped and was passed by the VVD.

Wilders admitted he was disappointed. “I would rather have won,” Wilders told reporters on Wednesday night in The Hague.

“But at the same time, the VVD lost seats and we gained. We are the winners of the elections. Too bad we are not the biggest party, but it is a result we can be proud of.”

“The campaign of Wilders was really bad,” said Te Velde. “Incomprehensible. He was hardly visible and cancelled debates. I have two explanations. Maybe he stayed at home, because it was too much for him as one-man party or he didn’t want to become the biggest, so he didn’t have to take responsibility. Maybe he preferred to stay a medium sized party in the opposition.”

“In addition, it seems that the dynamics were a bit gone in the interaction between Wilders and the other parties,” Te Velde added. “It was quiet.”

According to Voerman, Wilders peaked too early. “He had his momentum during the refugee crisis from 2015 until the beginning of 2016 and in November last year when Donald Trump was elected as U.S. President,” Voerman said.

“However, the EU-Turkey deal limited the flow of refugees, while the start of the Trump reign became a chaos,” Voerman said. Enditem

Source: Jesse Wieten, Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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