The elections in the United States may finally be over, but in the Netherlands things are just beginning to heat up. Their general elections take place two months from now on March 15th and the latest comprehensive polling shows that the Dutch are in for some serious upheaval. You may recall the unpleasantness in December when MP Geert Wilders was actually convicted in court on charges of saying unpopular things. That stunt didn’t seem to work out very well because his popularity actually soared in the aftermath. But at the time we were urging caution, waiting to see if that was a trend that would last going into the new year or just a blip on the media radar.
Now we have what seems to be an increasingly solid answer to that question. Some of the biggest pollsters in the region agree that Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) is on the cusp of winning the largest number of seats in the nation’s Parliament.
The anti-Islam leader of the Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) is on course to win the most seats at the general election in March.
His election would be the latest blow for Europe’s liberal order in the wake of the Donald Trump’s victory and the Brexit vote.
Rem Korteweg, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform (CER), believes that there is an 80 per cent chance that the Mr Wilders will win.
He said: “We have to take the polls with a grain of salt, but Wilder has really been able to create a significant lead over the past two months.”
So that makes Wilders the next Prime Minister and leader of the nation, right? Not so fast there, Skippy. What the Dutch may be in for is not a revolutionary new Prime Minister, but rather a constitutional crisis. The problem comes down to the fact that they share a trait in common with many of their European neighbors. Specifically, the people don’t actually get to vote to elect their leader. They elect the members of Parliament who then have to get together and select the next Prime Minister. This usually involves a process where several parties bind together into a temporary alliance large enough to form a majority and the leader of the party with the most seats winds up being the PM. In more “normal” times that would make Wilders a shoe-in.
This time around, however, it might not work. The current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has gone on record saying that his People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) would not be forming a coalition with the PVV no matter how many seats they win. If the current projections hold true, that takes nearly 25 seats off the table in Wilders’ expected effort to lock together 76 seats in a governing coalition. The PVV is expected to hold 35, so that means he would have to find more than forty additional allies from an even larger group of smaller parties, each with their own agenda. And a number of those other groups have similarly said that they don’t plan to work with the PVV.
This is one of the fundamental shortcomings of a European style parliamentary system. A strong plurality isn’t enough to get you over the finish line. Obviously there are people who would argue that this is actually an expression of the strength of the system because it forces different groups to come to the table and cooperate, but what about when the voters decide to go in an entirely new direction which the rest of the country is at least uncomfortable with if not outright opposed to? (Any of this sounding familiar to you Americans?)
If the Netherlands can’t form a governing coalition after the election with the ability to hold together for a while they’ll have a serious mess on their hands. It could result in an unstable government which is forced back to the polls to do it all over again… possibly multiple times. At some point they should probably consider direct elections for selecting a Prime Minister.
Hey… you can always vote him out in a few years if you don’t like him.