The Liberal Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD, in its Dutch acronym) has once again won the elections in the Netherlands : with 88.5% of the votes counted, it has obtained 35 seats in a parliament of 150. It is the right-wing liberal party of Mark Rutte, the current acting prime minister, who will repeat in office for the fourth time in a row since 2010, and is on track to become the longest term in the country’s history.
The main surprise has been provided by the rise of the left liberals (D66) who with 24 seats have been in second position. Its head of the list, diplomat Sigrid Kaag , has burst onto the national political scene and has snatched second place from Geert Wilders’ far-right(PVV), which has achieved 17 deputies. Kaag has even dared to stand on a table in front of the cameras to celebrate a result that his team described as “silver with a golden shine.”
With more than 13 million citizens with the right to vote and 81% participation, the Christian Democrats (CDA) are in fourth place with 15 deputies. The great victim is the left: the Social Democracy (PvdA), with nine seats, the environmentalists of GroenLinks (GL), with seven, and the Radical Socialists (SP), with nine others, together barely exceed D66 in one place.
The other far-right party, Forum for Democracy (FVD), led by Thierry Baudet, Wilders’ rival despite sharing the same ideological space, has gone from two to eight deputies. It is a personal triumph after last year the anti-Semitism and homophobia of the party’s youth were uncovered, and Baudet himself was beaten for having written tweets of a similar vein. Despite his promotion, he did not appear in the media overnight to celebrate.
Several small groups make their debut in parliamentary life. Among them, Volt, the pan-European party, with three deputies, and JA21, which split from Baudet’s group, with four seats.
Rutte is in a rush to form a coalition and has already said that he is “very interested” in speaking with Sigrid Kaag and the Christian Democrats. Among the three there are 74 seats, when the parliamentary majority is set at 76. As they would not be a majority in the Senate, it would take at least one other party to govern with ease.
If Christian Democrats decline the offer suspicious of Kaag’s “progressive and green” promise, GroenLinks or the Social Democracy could be probed. The presence of Geert Wilders in the Cabinet is ruled out because no party wants to govern with him.
“It is a fantastic night and I am very happy,” said Rutte on Wednesday after learning the results, “but I know that many things have gone wrong these years and we have to get to work as soon as possible.”
Those over 70 and other risk groups were able to vote this Monday and Tuesday to avoid infections, and voting by mail has been favored. About 2.5 million people had the right to do it this way, according to the central statistical office, but there have been errors in postage.
In view of the fact that the pandemic has turned everything upside down , the Ministry of the Interior has adapted the rules on the fly to save the ballots that arrive in sealed envelopes, which preserve the secret of the vote.
They have been an extraordinary election in the most literal sense of the term: out of the ordinary. Because the campaign has been almost telematic, with a few street rallies closely watched by the police to maintain the physical distance of 1.5 meters; because although the electoral programs appeared in full on the parties’ web pages, the debates were more one-on-one between the candidates for the post of prime minister.
Because the coronavirus has cornered scandals such as that of aid to families (about 30,000), which caused the resignation of Rutte and his Cabinet in January, and would have diminished their chances of success at any other time. But, above all, because management is the strength of the prime minister who repeats and the voter has believed that in a pandemic it is what is needed: a manager.
An ethical lesson in the Netherlands
Rutte is not just the brand image of right-wing liberals. Even his critics acknowledge that he knows how to bring his colleagues together to agree on a coalition – the natural form of government in a society as fragmented as the Netherlands – and he does not falter until an agreement is reached.
For the moment, his preferred partner is Christian democracy, although Kaag for his part has assured that he is ready to work together: “The Netherlands cannot wait any longer to tackle the disaster caused by climate change, and it is necessary to invest in education and housing. ”.
Election day has also left some anecdotes. The most noted is the bad luck of Hugo de Jonge, Christian Democrat Minister of Health – in functions like the rest of the Executive – who has to keep quarantine because he has been in contact with a person who suffers from covid-19. Before he knew it, he had to go and return home because he went to vote with an expired passport.
“And it’s only noon,” he tweeted already confined. The other protagonist of the day has been the red pencil used to mark the name of the preferred candidate on the ballot. They are traditional and are not usually paid attention beyond the note of color. But this time they have become a cult object. People took it and they have even put it up for sale on a platform for buying and selling new and second-hand Dutch objects.