Netherlands has said "stop" to the wrong kind of populism, said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Wednesday evening after exit polls showed his center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) would keep its position as the biggest party in the parliamentary election.
"It seems that the VVD will be the largest party three times in a row," Rutte told a crowd of cheering supporters in an election night gathering at the World Trade Center in The Hague.
"It is an evening when the Netherlands said 'Ho' (which means 'stop' in Dutch) to the wrong kind of populism after Brexit and the U.S. elections," Rutte said.
The first exit polls showed that the VVD would win 31 out of 150 seats in the lower house of parliament, while its biggest competitor, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), would secure only 19 seats, the same as the Democratic 66 (D66) and the Christian Democrats (CDA).
The VVD beating the PVV in the race to become the biggest party means that the Dutch people have refused to give power to a right wing populist party. A win for the PVV could have been a continuation of the wind of populism blowing through Europe and a barometer for the French presidential elections to be kicked off next month and Germany's elections in September.
Alexander Pechtold, leader of D66, reacted to the polls with a message similar to Rutte's.
"After Trump and the Brexit, people looked at Europe, where three countries could send a signal whether or not this continent is following the populists. And it was shown that that sound has been stopped here in the Netherlands," said Pechtold.
Jesse Klaver, leader of the Groenlinks party, also said in his election night speech that populism did not break through, calling it "a historical night."
PVV leader Geert Wilders thanked the people who voted for him on Twitter shortly after the result of the exit polls was revealed. "We have won seats. That's the first victory. Rutte will not get rid of me yet," said Wilders.
"Too bad we are not the biggest party, but it is a result we can be proud of," Wilders added.
Wilders had been in a neck-and-neck battle with Rutte throughout his campaign, but slid in opinion polls in the final run-up to the voting day.
Rutte admitted that the differences had been "emphasized" throughout the campaign, but called on the parties to "bring the country back together again" and to form a stable government in a "sensible manner" in the coming weeks and months.
The VVD leader now considers it important that the country remains "safe, stable and prosperous" after the election.
"We are the most competitive economy of the EU; we saw the quickest decrease of unemployment in ten years; the government's finances are in order; we even have a surplus on the budget," said Rutte, adding that the most important task in the coming years is to make ordinary people feel the success in their personal lives.
"Tonight we celebrate, and tomorrow we will continue to work for the Netherlands," added Rutte.
Rutte also expressed appreciation for his coalition partner from the Labour Party (PvdA) which lost 29 seats and secured only 9.
According to Eddy Habben Jansen, an election expert based in The Hague, the surprising loss of the PvdA could mean that the new coalition government would expect big changes in its policy.
Rutte told supporters that he has been receiving phone calls from other European leaders.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Rutte on Wednesday evening to express congratulations and wishes for cooperation, Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seibert wrote on Twitter.
"I am looking forward to continuing good cooperation as friends, neighbors, Europeans," Seibert quoted Merkel as saying.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has congratulated Rutte for the Dutch election outcome, calling it a victory of Europe and a vote against extremism.
The turnout in this year's Dutch election was over 80 percent, an significant increase compared to the previous election in 2012.
The final results will be released on March 21.
The liberal rightist party VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte took the lead in the Dutch parliamentary elections, according to the final exit poll released on Wednesday, with the far-right party PVV staying far behind.
The definite exit poll forecasted the VVD got 31 seats of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, or lower house of the parliament.
The PVV, the center-right Christian Democrats CDA, and the leftist liberals D66 were expected to garner 19 seats each. The green leftist GroenLinks obtained 16 seats, followed by the leftist Socialist Party SP with 14 seats and the leftist Labor party PvdA with nine seats.
The amount of 31 seats means a loss of 10 seats for the VVD compared to the previous elections in 2012. The PVV gained four seats compared to the previous elections, but the result was thought to be a disappointment for its leader Geert Wilders, because his party had long led pre-election polls.
The VVD beating the PVV in the race to become the biggest party means that the Dutch people have refused to give power to a right wing populist party.
After the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election, a win for the PVV could have been the continuation of the wind of populism blowing through Europe and a barometer for the upcoming elections in France and Germany.
"After the Brexit and Donald Trump winning the U.S. Presidential elections, everyone is looking at us," Mark Rutte told supporters at a party meeting in The Hague following the release of exit poll results. "This evening, the Dutch people said no to the wrong kind of populism."
His remarks were echoed by D66 leader Alexander Pechtold and GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver. "The sound of populism has stopped in the Netherlands," said Pechtold. "Populism has not had a breakthrough in the Netherlands," added Klaver.
In line with a previously-publicized schedule, Wilders did not have a meeting with his supporters on Wednesday night.
Through Twitter, the PVV leader reacted. "We gained seats," Wilders wrote. "Rutte has not seen the last of me."
With the first place, the VVD would have the right of priority to form a coalition government. Based on the results forecasted by the exit polls, Rutte will have to form a cabinet with other parties.
Before the elections, Rutte had already stated that CDA and D66 are his favorite parties to govern with, but the fourth party has to come from the left, GroenLinks, SP or PvdA, which will be more difficult.
"We have to come together and make a stabile government again." Rutte told cheering supporters on Wednesday night. "I will do anything for that."
The Labor which formed the outgoing coalition government with the VVD, is the biggest loser in the elections, according to the final exit poll. The Labor party lost 29 seats compared to four and a half years ago.
Compared to 2012, CDA gained six seats, D66 won seven more seats, and SP lost one seat while GroenLinks became the biggest winner with a gain of 12 seats. "It is a historic evening," GroenLinks Klaver said.
Turkish Muslims dominated Denk Party won three seats grabbing almost 200,000 votes, which comprises half of the Turkish origin citizens of Netherlands.
The Denk party is known for its pro-Erdogan ultra-right passionate sentiments. They are also known for their aversion from Moroccan community, African blacks, Alawites and Kurdish communities.
The political commentators are describing this development as a new trend in the political scene of Netherlands while attributing it to the recent tensions between Turkey and Netherlands.
Most of the observers are perplexed over political losses of PVV of Geert Wilders, at one hand, and political gains of Denk Party, at the other. Denk party was formed by two former parliamentarians from Centre Left labour party (PVDA).
Turkish are the largest Muslim diaspora community of Netherlands reaching approximately half a million, which is 50% of all the Muslims living in the country.
Despite its overtly liberal world view, the Denk party is increasingly indulging in adapting a right wing religious posture despite the fact that most of the Netherlands’ right-wing onslaught had been directed against their arch rival Moroccan community, which is almost same size as Turkish community.
Some of the political commentators have claimed that the right-wing sentiments, especially fear of the Geert Wilders, has compelled far right Muslims to unite and seek their collective representation. The Denk party, it seems, has benefited from these political situations.
Yet it is difficult to call Denk party as the sole representative of even Turkish community as almost half of them have supported other mainstream parties.
There have been many failed attempts to form Islamic party in Netherlands primarily because of lack of cohence in different Muslim groups present in the country.
Secondly, a strong tradition of left, liberal and labour parties ideals have always protected the interests of the minorities rendering religion based political party irrelevant or unnecessary. In this context, the sudden uneasy relations and tit-for-tact actions from Turkey and Netherlands have help generating a new phenomenon hitherto unknown in the body politics of Netherlands.
The five-point program of Denk party revolves around the immigrants issues. They advocate for a tolerant society (accepting each other), a learning society (understanding each other), sustainable society (job securities/prosperity) and a just society (promoting international justice). The party wants to include "knowledge of migration history" in the education system. Moreover, it wants to replace the word, "integration" with "acceptance". The party demands that UN and UNSC should bring fundamental revision in their approaches and EU should have independent foreign policy. The Denk party thinks that the extremism is the product of hopelessness, social exclusion and injustice. Denk party acknowledges that the Netherlands recognition and EU support for Palestine are better gestures for the interfaith harmony.
It is interesting to note that all of the above mentioned points are sufficiently covered by other mainstream liberal and left parties who, according to the electoral result of yesterday, represent the majority of the people of the country.
The fall of Geert Wilders has clearly shown that the people of Netherlands have rejected the hate mongering, xenophobic and racist agendas. The Electoral system in Netherland, however, encourages people to form political parties.
There are 80 political parties in the Netherlands and 28 of them have contested March 2017 elections.
There are subsidies available for political parties. The proportional representation in the country helps ethnic and religious group to put forward candidate and get them elected easily.
The Muslim community enjoys enormous freedom to flourish. They receive handsome subsidies to established religious centres, mosque, separate TV and radio stations. In the past, the liberal government, under pressure from the right wing, tried to withdraw some of these rights but failed in doing so because of the clearly defined constitutional guarantees and pressure from left-wing parties.
Commenting on the electoral trends, famous human rights activist and former president of the Green Left party Marjan Lucas said that Amsterdam and Nijmegen city were the two beacons of the intercultural diversity, cosmopolitism, cultural vibrancy, tourism and creative potential.
Moreover, according to her, the Nijmegen, having a glorious history of resistance against elitist politics have a strong basis for the politics of diversity. She said, "Erdogan is popular among a lot of nationalist Turks who unfortunately, are unwelcoming towards other migrant communities like Moroccans and Africans. The agenda of integration and equal rights should be beyond the religious identity".
Theo Coskon, the mayor of a locality in Roterdam, belongs to Socialist Party. He said, "The left is losing in Nederlands. They hold just 35 seats while Green Party and improving. Liberals managed to retain their seats but the biggest loser is the Wilders who, at one moment, was the biggest nightmare for all the humanists of the Netherlands. In fact people rejected anti-Islam right-wing agenda." Commenting on the Denk party, he said, "Unfortunately, the young people of Turkish community voted for Denk Party. It will not solve any of their problems rather it will discourage people who are fighting for the rights of Muslims along with other migrants. Denk party has exploited the polarisation in the society"
Jane Pocook, editor, Development Issue, said, "It is sad that Denk Party has manipulated the Turkish youth. But they have no solution for the political, cultural or economic issues confronted by the Turkish youth. Their voice with just three seats is very weak. The future of the Turkish immigrants lie in the mainstream political parties. The left is losing against the centre right but the defeat of far right in Netherlands is a satisfactory development. The immigrants like Turkish youth should strengthen the humanists of their countries instead of playing in the hands of the nationalist extremists. We have to stop people like Geert Wilders from marginalization and isolation of immigrants. This should be a common agenda".
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had lost the friendship of Ankara after a diplomatic row between the NATO allies over a ban on Turkish ministers speaking in the Netherlands. Erdogan’s comments, at a rally in the northwestern province of Sakarya, came a day after Rutte fought off the challenge of anti-Islam and anti-EU rival Geert Wilders in an election victory hailed across much of Europe. Erdogan also slammed the EU for its ruling allowing companies to ban staff from wearing Islamic headscarves under certain conditions. “Down with your European principles, values and justice… They started a clash between the cross and the crescent, there is no other explanation,” he said. Media agencies