On 15 March 2017, Dutch voters finally go to the polls. Against the backdrop of a diplomatic row with Turkey (which is engaged in its own electioneering ahead of a controversial constitutional referendum), the anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) is predicted to do very well.
However, opinion polls have shown a slight slump in support for the PVV and its leader Geert Wilders, with the centre-right party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte fighting hard to remain the largest in parliament (though with perhaps half as many seats as it currently holds).
We had a comment from Joyce, who believes that Wilders will never get into power. She argues that no other party wants to go into coalition with him, so even though he is leading the polls he will be blocked from government. Is she right?
To get a response, we put this question to Henk te Velde, Professor of Dutch History at the Leiden University Institute for History.
Yes, I think so. First of all, in the Netherlands there is always a coalition government. No party ever achieves a majority – far from it! And the problem at the moment seems to be that there are so many parties that are not very small, but not very large either. So, probably, after the next elections we will need four, or maybe even five parties to form a coalition government. And Geert Wilders, according to the polls, will get perhaps 30 seats in our parliament, which contains 150 seats. So, this will mean still a small minority – not even one-fifth of the vote, probably.
He will then need to form a coalition after the elections, but his views are so extreme that nobody wants to form a government together with him. You can even ask the question whether he himself really wants to be part of government, because he doesn’t do anything to make that feasible. You could imagine that he pretends to want to become the next Prime Minister, but I think this is all rhetoric.
To get another perspective, we also put Joyce’s comment to Tom van der Meer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam. Did he think the scenario sketched out by Joyce was a realistic one?
I would agree, to a very large extent. Indeed, the Freedom Party is very unlikely to get a majority of the vote, because no party has ever done so. Indeed, the largest party, historically, doesn’t have a right to become a member of the next government, let alone to get the next prime minister. That only applies if the party is in a strategic position to get a majority of the seats in parliament behind a potential coalition; and that’s not the case for the Freedom Party at this moment. Nearly all parties have excluded a collaboration with the Freedom Party as a possibility.
You might imagine one of the parties might change their position afterwards, but for a successful majority coalition, you would need four parties at least. And that’s not going to happen.
We also had a comment from Bobi, who thinks it is “funny” how mainstream left and right parties combine efforts against “nationalists”. He believes this can mean only one thing: there are no differences between centre-left and centre-right parties. Bobi believes this encourages people to vote for more extreme parties on the fringes.
Is he right? We put Bobi’s comment to Tom van der Meer for his reaction:
[…] There is a risk that if there is a broad centre government, where parties from the political left and right collaborate to form a common coalition, that leads to voters moving to the extremes of the party system to find an alternative. Basically, if the centre parties can’t create their own opposition and polarise between themselves, then disaffected voters will look to the fringes. In that sense, he’s right. The current coalition government is, from that perspective, quite problematic. There was no serious alternative in 2012 to this current government coalition, but because a left-wing and right-wing party that radically opposed each other during the campaign had to collaborate in government, it’s very difficult to get true opposition in parliament except from the fringes. And that’s what we see now.
Finally, we put Bobi’s comment to Sjaak Koenis, Professor of Social Philosophy at the University of Maastricht. What would he say?
There is a slight danger, of course, that if they team up against the PVV they are going to move closer to one another. But most parties try to emphasise clear differences between themselves and other mainstream parties. So, there is a slight danger, but I don’t think it’s going to be very substantial.
Should Dutch parties refuse to go into coalition with Geert Wilders? If centre-left and centre-right parties work to block Wilders from power, will it just increase his appeal? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!