The AFP’s headline read: “European relief as Dutch snub ‘siren song’ of the far right.” The EU Commission in Brussels asserted that the Dutch general election results are a “Vote for Europe, a vote against extremists.” Prime Minster Marc Rutte declared that the Dutch had voted down the “wrong kind of populism.” Media watchers all declared that Rutte had “won the election.” Rutte’s Liberal Party won by losing eight seats while his coalition partner, the Labour Party, suffered a historic loss of 29 seats.
Geert Wilders, on the other hand, “lost” because his Freedom Party only ended up with 20 seats, a gain of 5 from 2012. The “Forum for Democracy,” a party which calls for leaving the EU and closing the borders to asylum seekers, entered Parliament for the first time with two seats. The explicit anti-Muslim immigration and anti-European Union parties in the Dutch Parliament grew from 15 to 22 seats. But they “lost.”
The fixation with Geert Wilders obscures what ought to be the most striking result from the Dutch general election: The Liberal-Labour Coalition government which pursued a sane fiscal policy and produced solid economic growth was destroyed. It started its four-year tenure with 79 of the 150 seats in Parliament. The two parties now have 41. In any other context, this would be called a complete repudiation, a blowout loss. Instead of celebrating, the Prime Minister would announce that he was standing down. But in 2017 the European ruling class has changed the definition of success. Winning is now just doing enough to cling to power. Winning means keeping the so-called populists out. For that reason, March Rutte “won."
After a Dutch general election, the Party with the largest number of seats in Parliament starts the negotiations to form the next government. In this case, Marc Rutte will seek partners for his Liberal Party. The most logical coalition consists of the Liberals, the Christian Democrats, and the Left-Liberal D66. The three parties together would have 71 seats. But to get to 76, a majority, Rutte would have to find a fourth party. This would be the Christian Union, an Evangelical party with five seats. But the Christian Union and D66 are already at each other’s throats over a D66 proposal to liberalize the euthanasia law. A coalition might fall over that issue alone. Liberal leader Marc Rutte may want to pass on this poisoned chalice.
Rutte must also know that the issues which caused his coalition’s terrible election performance remain unresolved. The Dutch are still recovering, both financially and emotionally, from the crash of 2008. They fear for the future of their jobs. While the Muslim Asylum Seeker invasion which began in 2015 continues.
The distrust of many Dutch for the EU and the Euro remains. Rutte led a government which booked some tangible economic success but was punished at the polls anyway. Why would he want to try it again? He might just as well let the splintered Left form a five or six party coalition and then pick up the pieces when it inevitably collapses.
Where does this leave Geert Wilders, the “loser”? He has no choice but to wait. Both Rutte and all the parties on the Left have ruled out a coalition with him. Nevertheless, his issues are driving the Dutch political agenda. The next coalition, whether Center -Right or Left, will be unstable. Wilders can expect it to fall followed by another general election in which he will again be the central figure.
He has the whip hand.