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Wilders' Victory Sparks Coalition Challenges in Post-Rutte Dutch Politics

By Tobias Pardoen

Edited by Mélanie Fourtanier & Federico Durante


The general elections of 22 November 2023 have unleashed a seismic political shake-up in the Netherlands. As the nation steps into the post-Rutte era with a decisive swing to the right, Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) seizes 37 seats out of 150 in a rightward shift, sparking uncertainty about the nation's future. In this pivotal moment, the political landscape sets the stage for unprecedented challenges and transformations.


© Remko de Waal/ANP


Election Upheaval


In the wake of this political earthquake, Wilders' PVV emerged as the dominant force with 37 secured seats. The Greenleft and Labour Party (GroenLinks-PvdA) claims the second-largest position with 25 seats, followed closely by the Liberals (VVD) at 24, and NSC (New Social Contract) securing 20 seats.


Notably, the coalition parties from the outgoing Rutte government—VVD, D66, CDA, and ChristenUnie—all experienced a reduction in seat numbers. Wilders' triumph propels him into a crucial position during the upcoming cabinet formation process.


In the lead-up to the elections, the spotlight was on VVD, NSC, and GroenLinks-PvdA. However, the PVV's poll numbers defied expectations, displaying a noteworthy climb as the elections approached. Wilders' TV performances in the campaign's final phase propelled the success.


Geert Wilders' Campaign Makeover


Geert Wilders is a widely recognised, albeit divisive, political figure. Once a member of the VVD until 2004, Wilders left the party due to disagreements over its stance on European integration policies and Turkey's possible EU accession.


In 2006, he founded the Party for Freedom (PVV), where he took on a pivotal role as the party's founder, leader, and prominent figurehead. Notably, his departure from the VVD subjected him to constant security measures due to death threats arising from his strong positions on Islam.


Contrasting his controversial past, Wilders adopted a more conciliatory approach during this campaign. He signalled a willingness to abandon unconstitutional proposals, including banning mosques and Islamic schools and prohibiting the Quran and the Islamic headscarf in government buildings.


Nevertheless, Wilders held steadfast positions on immigration, asylum, healthcare, and social security, suggesting a prioritisation of these issues over his views on Islam. His victory speech emphasises his readiness to be the prime minister for all Dutch citizens, irrespective of their origin or faith.


Geert Wilders' milder tone in recent weeks appears to have swayed many voters. Nevertheless, views on this purported softened approach continue to differ. Some insist his party program has not changed, casting doubt on whether his recent shift is genuine, given his years of consistent stances.


Demissionary Deputy Prime Minister Kaag echoes this concern, stating that "someone does not change overnight". On the other hand, there are those who assert that Wilders deserves a chance to demonstrate his transformation.


Arguments contend that it is crucial to honour the societal movement reflected in the election results, and avoiding that course would only be detrimental to voter trust.


Complex Hurdles Ahead


Being the biggest does not guarantee Wilders the coveted role of prime minister. The journey involves skillfully navigating the intricate task of forming a coalition in a politically fragmented landscape.


A potential government coalition on the horizon includes PVV, BBB (Farmer–Citizen Movement), and NSC, with tolerance support from the VVD. This coalition would secure a commanding majority with 88 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives.


However, this composition lacks a Senate majority. Consequently, long-term legislative compromises are likely as the Senate, a co-legislator, cannot amend bills but holds the power to accept or block proposed legislation. Therefore, Wilders' extremist propositions are likely to be untenable.


Furthermore, frictions cloud the collaboration prospects as the willingness of these parties to cooperate remains uncertain. While Van der Plas, the leader of BBB, openly expressed enthusiasm for such a coalition, others like Yesilgöz from the VVD initially wavered on excluding the PVV during the campaign.


Yet, in a post-election twist, Yesilgöz declared a shift in stance, asserting that the VVD will not directly join a coalition due to seat losses but may lend informal support to a centre-right cabinet.


Omtzigt, NSC's leader, remains elusive about his party joining a coalition government, acknowledging the intricate post-election cabinet formation process. While expressing openness to responsibility, Omtzigt will consult with his party regarding the potential of forming a coalition with Wilders.


The landscape of alternative options poses challenges. Timmermans of GroenLinks-PvdA firmly rejects any collaboration with the PVV. Additionally, he dismissed collaboration with the VVD, citing a lack of clarity on their vision for substantial change in the country.


Moreover, VVD frontrunner Dilan Yesilgöz hesitates about forming a coalition with left-wing parties. Although theoretically feasible, excluding the PVV from coalitions raises commitment doubts.


Given the significant electoral gains of PVV, BBB, and NSC, the likelihood of forming a coalition without their involvement appears slim. Finally, a minority cabinet is an option, but its occurrence would be exceptional, as it last happened in 1939.


Beyond substantive hurdles, the formation process faces an unexpected start. The coalition scout resigns amidst fraud charges, adding a layer of complexity. Despite these challenges, the new coalition scout argues that the formation process does not need to take a long time.


However, political unrest escalates within parties like the VVD and NSC, sparking internal debates and open rebellion against the current party stance. The considerations for new elections loom as challenges in forming a coalition intensify.


This venture into uncharted constitutional territory raises doubts about its utility, as it might not alter political dynamics, thereby potentially reintroducing challenges in government formation.


A New Era With Uncertain Alliances


The general election aftermath thrusts the Netherlands into political turmoil. Geert Wilders' resounding triumph with the PVV signals a discernible rightward shift, yet the intricate dance of coalition dynamics has positioned the nation at a critical juncture.


As Wilders confronts hurdles on the road to leadership, the upcoming weeks emerge as a decisive period that will sculpt the contours of Dutch politics. The alliances and decisions made now will significantly shape the post-Rutte era, leaving more questions than answers.


In this uncertain climate, the nation eagerly awaits a pivotal chapter where political choices will sculpt the future, teetering the destiny of the Dutch political landscape.



Sources: Algemeen Dagblad, Financieel Dagblad, Follow The Money, Montesquieu Instituut, NOS, NU.nl, NRC, Parlement.com, Telegraaf, Trouw, Volkskrant and WNL


Written by Tobias Pardoen

November 2023





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