Dass Mark Rutte emerged as the strongest candidate in the exit polls of the Dutch parliamentary elections on Wednesday evening, did not surprise anyone. But all the more the fact that left parties and especially the green party GroenLinks performed so much worse than expected.
In the preliminary results, Mark Rutte’s liberal party VVD has become the strongest party with 35 of the 150 seats. It is Rutte’s fourth win in a row. This is followed with 24 seats by the social-liberal D66 led by top candidate Sigrid Kaag, the best result of her party so far. This is followed by the PVV of the well-known right-wing populist Geert Wilders (17 seats) and the Christian Democratic ruling party CDA (15 seats). The right-wing radical “Forum for Democracy” (FvD) by Thierry Baudet quadrupled to eight seats. A group of forum members that had split off also moved into parliament with four seats.
This means that the radical right in Holland is larger than all three big left parties (comparable to the SPD, Greens and Left Party in Germany) combined, which together only get 25 seats. The political left in Holland has long been divided and fragmented, and this trend has intensified. It is a tradition in Dutch elections that parties from the left spectrum attack and denigrate one another instead of targeting their actual opponent, Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
But what is particularly striking is the crash of GroenLinks, which despite its election campaign on issues such as climate protection and social redistribution, halved its result from 14 to seven seats compared to the previous elections. How is it possible that a green party of all people in a modern country like the Netherlands is doing so badly at this point in time?
Climate issues were absent
Although ecological tasks, above all the fight against climate change, are more and more in the center of attention worldwide, this topic was noticeably absent in the last election campaign. This is bad news for GroenLinks, who at least declared the 2021 elections to be “climate elections”. “We only have nine years to fight global warming,” said party leader Jesse Klaver, who had hoped for no less than the best election result for his party of all time. But even after the voter gossip, Klave wants to continue as party chairman.
Instead of climate and ecology, issues such as the corona crisis and the health system in the Netherlands were primarily about the question of the reliability of the state. So above all about leadership. And this is exactly where the Greens didn’t have much to offer. GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver had the chance to join the third Rutte government in 2017 and thus exert his green influence. But he refused to participate because of a still unclear migration-critical agreement on refugees, which would not be decided by the Netherlands, but by Europe.
As a result, supporters and opponents alike accused the Greens of a lack of responsibility. After Klaver withdrew, the Netherlands ended up in a right-wing conservative coalition. In addition: GroenLinks was able to win points in previous elections with many events for its voters, the so-called “meet-ups”. Party leader Klaver competed in large halls where he was compared to Canada’s star Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or even Barack Obama.
Little seems to be left of this charism. The fact that there was hardly any opportunity to campaign in the country also harmed the other parties – and was ultimately only positive for election winner Mark Rutte, who is most visible as Prime Minister even without an election campaign.
But it’s about more: Many Dutch people who want a greener climate policy quickly have believed since the Greens pinched their government responsibility in 2017 that another party could do more for them in this area. The environmental voice has by no means fallen silent. The big winner of the elections, D66, also advertised a progressive climate policy. The new party leader Sigrid Kaag said she would fight for greener politics in a new cabinet. The pan-European movement Volt, which also campaigned for the climate, won three seats.
Need for guidance
D66’s gains are largely due to what has come to be known in the Netherlands as the “Kaag Effect”. When Sigrid Kaag became party leader in September, her prospects were initially not very promising. But in the crucial weeks it has become increasingly popular with voters. She won because she made leadership the election slogan of the Social Liberal Party. Kaag was already Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and previously known internationally for her work for the United Nations and the OPCW.
D66’s broad profile attracted many new voters. The party is market-based and for individual freedom, but at the same time also occupies left-wing issues and takes care of the cultural and creative scene. In addition, there is a progressive policy on issues such as climate change, European cooperation and medical-ethical issues such as euthanasia and abortion. In this respect, D66 can address both left and conservative, young and older voters alike.
Many observers initially saw this broad, very pragmatic profile as a weakness in the days of ideological camp struggles. But in these elections it has proven to be a strength.
Pictures of party leader Kaag dancing on the table after the result was announced were featured on many front pages in the Netherlands on Thursday morning. With the victory of D66, the Netherlands also have their first transgender MP: Lisa van Ginneken, number 22 on the list. It is obvious that the D66 party will also be part of the fourth Rutte government. In addition, two more parties are needed for a majority. A “scout” will therefore be appointed on Thursday who will look for a new coalition.
The choice is large, however. A special feature is the fragmentation of the Dutch political landscape. With only 150 seats, it is expected that seventeen parties will move into parliament. That’s a record. Four new parties will move into parliament: Volt, the right-wing radical JA21, the anti-racist BIJ1 and the BBB party, which emerged from the peasant protests.
But Thierry Baudet from the radical right-wing Forum for Democracy is still a political force. Despite racist and anti-Semitic statements. Baudet flirts with conspiracy theories of Covid-19 as a “preconceived plan of the ‘elites'”. This is also noticeable: Baudet seems to have benefited from the lockdown fatigue in the Netherlands.