The Cable

Dutch Apparently Fend off Far-Right Election Challenge

Rutte loses seats but, at least according to first exit polls, wins the day.

geert

According to the first exit poll, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy came first in Wednesday’s parliamentary election, parrying a challenge from far-right candidate Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom, which is predicted to tie with another party in second place.

Preliminary results are expected later Wednesday evening. If Rutte is indeed the winner, establishment parties in Europe will likely seize on it as a sign that the continent can avoid repeating the shock, populist victories of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and President Donald Trump’s election in the United States. That, at least, seems to be the German Foreign Office’s stance.

Wilders was polling well before the vote, although he lost some support as what analysts called the “Trump effect” kicked in. Rutte himself seems to have taken that position: “This is a night for the Netherlands,” he told supporters after seeing exit polls. “After Brexit, after the US election, we said ‘stop it, stop it’ to the wrong kind of populism.”

Further, voters seemed to support Rutte’s stance against Turkish officials campaigning for their pro-Erdogan referendum in the Netherlands. Rutte might have high turnout to thank: 81 percent of voters took part on Wednesday.

But it remains unclear which of the six main parties predicted to enter parliament Rutte can turn to for another governing coalition. Rutte’s party, which had governed in coalition with the center-left Labor Party, seems set to lose ten seats, taking it down to 32 of the 76 needed to rule, while the Labor Party, suffering a historic loss of 38 seats, won just nine.

The big winner of the day seems also to be from the left: GreenLeft, the party of communists, pacifists, and radicals alike, is believed to have upped its number of seats from four to 16.

Despite the loss of seats, Rutte’s task seems to have been made easier by Wilders’s xenophobic rhetoric. Many Dutch parties — 28 took part in the elections, making coalitions de rigeur — have said they would not join ranks with Wilders even if the Party for Freedom did win the most seats.

Update, Mar. 15 2017, 5:45 pm ET: This post was updated to include the German Foreign Office’s celebratory tweet.

Update, Mar. 15 2017, 7:05 pm ET: This post was updated to include the victory of GreenLeft. 

Update, Mar. 15 7:58 pm ET: This post was updated to reflect that Wilders’s party tied for third, not second, and that Rutte’s party won 33, not 31, as the first exit poll said.

Update, Mar. 15 11:43 pm ET: This post was updated to reflect Wilders’s party tied for second and Rutte’s with 32 seats after over half the vote had been counted. Additionally, it was updated to include Rutte’s victory statement.

Photo credit: ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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