Searchlight - January 2007
Nearly 10 million Dutch voters, a turn-up of 80 %, showed their volatility, yet again, in the general election on 22 November. Thirty-one seats in the 150-strong parliament shifted party and Geert Wilders' new right-wing populist outfit, the Freedom Party, entered the parliament width 9 seats. Only the late Pim Fortuyn's party List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) has grabbed more seats as a newcomer. Besides the Freedom Party, the Socialist Party was the winner of these elections gaining 16 seats, to increase their tally to 25.
The ruling coalition of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the right-wing liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) lost its majority, although the CDA remained the biggest party and will now have to look for new partners to form a government.
The VVD, on the other hand, is in deep crisis, not only losing 6 seats, but also facing a coup for the leadership of the party by the hardline migration minister, Rita Verdonk. Earlier this year, Verdonk narrowly lost in a contest for the VVD's leadership. Now, it appears that Verdonk, as a number 2 on the list, got 60,000 more votes than party leader Mark Rutte.
Verdonk, who backed the reelection of Rutte, has now decided to attack him and raise questions about who the real leader of the VVD is. She suggested that a commission of senior VVD officials should investigate that issue, but she was then reprimanded and warned that, if she made any more trouble again, she would be removed from the VVD's parliamentary group.
This bitter argument highlights the clash between the liberals and the right-wing liberals inside the VVD and it is probably only a matter of time before Verdonk decides to start her own outfit.
She already promoted herself during the campaign and now faces a majority of the parliament who voted, in the first session, for a pardon for the 26,000 refugees who have been in the Netherlands for years. Verdonk will defend her deportation policy but the rules of democracy apply also to her. When a majority in parliament wants something, the government has to act. This could, in fact be Verdonk's last stand.
Of the four right wing populist parties contesting the elections, only Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV) survived. The leader of One NL, Marco Pastors, who arrogantly thought he could win to 15 to 20 seats, ended up getting none.
In the last days of the election, One NL launched a controversial radio advertisement that compared the attitude of the current government width the one in the years before the Second World War. The basic message was that an attitude of looking away leads to greater danger: then, voters were told, it was the Nazis, now, it is the Muslims or Islam.
This provocation did not have the effect Pastors had hoped for. Instead of media attention and a boost in the polls, his party did not gather enough votes to win a seat. The party will be put on hold and will not contest provincial or council elections in the near future. Pastors, meanwhile, will continue his work as councillor for Livable Rotterdam, which has 14 seats on the Rotterdam city council.
Another contestant to fill the vacuum on the right flank was Verdonk's predecessor as migration minister, the notorious Hilbrand Nawijn, an LPF-minister in 2002. His Party for the Netherlands (PvN) had hoped to gain the support of the local LPF parties, but when a list of signatures went missing ("stolen", Nawijn claimed), they could not stand in one district and lost the right to televison and radio advertisements, making them almost invisible in the campaign. Nawijn finished on 5,010 votes, far too little to win a seat but will remain a councillor in his hometown, Zoetermeer, where his party, the List Nawijn, won 5 seats in the council elections in March this year.
Pim Fortuyn's party, the LPF changed its name to simply 'Fortuyn' and went into the campaign defending its five seats. The inheritors of Fortuyn were hardly heard in the campaign, only making the headlines, when they demonstrated against the racism of One NL and the Freedom Party.
The latter parties were distributing leaflets in Rotterdam, when the Fortuyn party demonstrated width a samba band and some zwarte pieten, the black painted assistants of Saint Nicholas. In the election, the Fortuyn party ended up width no seats.
That leaves Geert Wilders a big opportunity to pick up Fortuyn's voters. Wilders won 9 seats width an anti-Islam campaign. His warning about "a tsunami of Islam" in the Netherlands was parroted in the media. Wilders used similar metaphors to Enoch Powell, in his "rivers of blood" speech. To compare a religion and a culture to a natural disaster, in which most of victims were Muslims, is sick but this nuance is lost on Wilders' bitter quest for power.
Burning his boats, he stated that the Dutch culture was a "thousand times better than Islam". His relentless hard line on migration and Islam and the fact that he is constantly guarded because of threats to his life, did the trick. In his hometown of Venlo, in the south of the Netherlands, Wilders polled almost 18% of the votes.
The new parliamentarians of Wilder' Freedom Party will have to prove that they can do a better job then the LPF in its time. At least it has a leader width parliamentary experience. Only two of the others elected – Fleur Agema and Barry Madlener – have had any political experience in, respectively, the LPF and Livable Rotterdam. The rest are inter alia a former advocate-general, a police inspector, an ex-journalist and a former employee of the IND, the Immigration Office.
Wilders immediately put his party in the underdog role in the closing debate after the elections. When none of the other political leaders seemed eager to cooperate width him, he grandiosely claimed that a cordon sanitaire was ringing the Freedom Party, pointing to the situation width the far-right Vlaams Belang (VB) in Belgium.
VB chairman Franck Vanhecke specifically congratulated Wilders width his victory and participants on the racist internet forum Holland Hardcore said they had voted for him and, before the elections, a call was made on the forum to distribute Freedom Party. On the fascist Stormfront forum. there was also positive identification width Wilders.
Wilders is now speculating on supporting a coalition of the centre right, but he also knows that against a coalition of the CDA, the social-democratic PvdA and the Socialist Party he can present a tough opposition, that will probably make him even more popular among right-wing voters. Participating in a government coalition would means making compromises, and his Freedom Party is not willing to do that, preferring to tout their simplistic non-working solutions to complex problems.
On election day, 1,282 people voted for Michiel Smit, chairman of the racist New Right in a by-election in Lansingerland near Rotterdam, giving him a job as councillor. In another by-election in a village in that area, 300 people voted for New Right. In March, this same party already gained a council seat in Ridderkerk, also near Rotterdam.
The final results of the Dutch parliamentary elections of 22 November 2006 were:
|The governing parties|
|CDA 41 seats||44|
|VVD 22 seats||28|
|PvdA 33 seats||42|
|SP 25 seats||9|
|Freedom Party 9 seats||-|
|Green Left 7 seats||8|
|Christen Union 6 seats||3|
|D66 3 seats||6|
|SGP 2 seats||2|
|Animal Party 2 seats||-|
|Fortuyn Party 0 seats||8|
By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! and Antifa-Net in Utrecht reports