Dutch voters turned out in record numbers to reject the nation’s far right, nationalist candidate Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom on March 15. The 2017 election garnered more international attention than any election in recent Dutch history and an extremely high voter turnout – a reported 82 percent. The Dutch people rejected the recent tide of populist rhetoric, in favor of the incumbent People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, led by Mark Rutte.
Rutte has been Prime Minister of the Netherlands since 2010 and the leader of the People’s Party since 2006. A conservative-liberal representing the Dutch center-right, Rutte supports private enterprise and economic liberalism as well as the trademark Dutch brand of social freedom and open-mindedness.
“As far as the Dutch elections go it’s certainly positive that Wilders’ far-right movement didn’t come out on top in this last election,” David Harvey, professor of history, said. “The establishment in general kind of lost and a number of minor parties gained seats, so it looks like he [Rutte] will have to scramble to reshape his coalition. Considering the sign that a victory for the far right in the Dutch elections would have given to elections in France and Germany later this year, it’s good at least that that didn’t happen.”
Wilder’s platform included advocating for the closure of all Dutch mosques, banning the Quran and taking the Netherlands out of the European Union. Wilders’ campaign also faced controversy after reportedly accepting funding from American conservative political groups. In response to Wilders’ success, the establishment Dutch political parties – including Rutte’s People’s Party – moved toward the right in an attempt to regain public support. These shifts reflect the general trend toward populism and nationalism that have been increasingly prominent in Western politics.
“The Brexit vote last year was sort of the first sign of this discontent with the status quo,” Harvey said. “There are a lot of people who are worried about the impact of immigration, terrorism, the loss of national traditions and national identity in Europe, and it’s fueled this sort of right wing, populist reaction that we’ve seen in Europe and in this country also.”