5 first insights to understand why populism is not on the way out in the Netherlands

Hello all foreign readers,

It seems as if our supertiny country has attracted quite some attention these days as all eyes were focused towards the main question: will a wave of populism change Europe? And although on the surface the answer seems a clear NO, there is more to the results than meets the eye.

In my humble opinion, the current results of the Dutch exit-poll show how populism and clientelism have become more prominent here, as in all other countries around the world. So mind you: in the Netherlands we're still moving to less democracy and more populism.

This will be clear after the reading the insights below. But do note that these are based on the exit-polls and not the final vote.

Insight # 1: Dutch voters have learnt their lesson, punished government and no longer voted strategic
What we can see is that both VVD (-10) and PvdA (-20) have been punished for their role in the preceding government. During the last elections, many citizens voted strategically and shifted their votes from their original parties to either VVD (right) or PvdA (left) to avoid the other party to become the biggest.

Yet through a strange turn of events and due to the anxious hunger for power, VVD and PvdA decided to work together. They compromised on fundamental party principles in order to be in power. As such they both disappointed the strategic voters and their party fanatics who assumed that it was unlikely that these two would work together with the enemy, even without additional parties.

PvdA and VVD formed an alliance that was based on very limited support and did not have a majority in the Senate. When started it was clear that they would focus on one thing only: surviving as a government out of fear that in-between elections would lead to a massive victory for PVV.

The first lesson in todays outcome in the Netherlands is that strategic voters have learnt that strategic voting does not pay. In addition, die hard party fans of both PvdA and VVD did not accept the fact that their party was sleeping with the enemy. So first and foremost, both parties are punished for quickly seeking power with the dark side. And the strategic voters have decided not to do this again but vote for their principles.

Insight #2: Dutch are more populist than before, but they come in different clothing
Whereas it looks as if the regular party VVD (31 seats) is the biggest with runners up CDA (19), D66 (19) and PVV (19), we should note that the only non-populist party in this row is D66. Both VVD and CDA made a sharp right turn by taking PVV-like positions on immigration and such.

With this in mind, I think it would be fair to say that effectively we had at least three rightish populist parties on the scene, who together assembled 69 out of 150 seats. This used to be 56 seats (for VVD and PVV) in the previous elections.

On top of that we can see that, even though parties all declared that right-wing PVV would not be invited for government roles (given their unreliable stance some years ago), the parties has won some 4 seats.

Right now, this election evening, most people and foreign media are misstaking the wood for the trees by concluding that the low amount of seats for PVV is a signal that the battle agains populism has been won in the Netherlands. It is with much regret that I need to conclude otherwise: the existing parties have adopted the populism and it is more widespread than before.

Insight #3: Fact free politics are also on the rise in the Netherlands
All over the world we are witnessing new 'leaders' or political activists who don't care about truth but focus on convincing the public by playing on their emotion. They don't provide solutions to real life problems, but are able to amass considerable support, either from within existing parties or as a new political party.

It's the same here. We have narcistic old and new players with a lot of noise, but no true consistent content coming into play from different angles. Among these are the party for elderly, forum for democracy, THINK and PVV. From a number of 15 seats in 2012, these are now expected to gain 28 seats.

Insight #4: Turkish incident helped both VVD and DENK with some extra seats
This weekend, just before the elections, the Dutch and Turkish government ended up in a diplomatic row over unwanted visitors to the Netherlands. This allowed prime minister Rutte (VVD) to pose as a leader, thus winning some seats, while DENK (representing Turkish interests in the Netherlands) avoided to enter the debate. Their existence did allow the irritated Turkish/Dutch citizens to voice their anger on the discrimination that they experience in the Netherlands.

One could compare this to the situation with Eurosongfestivals, where the immigrant population in the Netherlands and Germany have a big vote/say in influencing the Dutch end result.

Insight #5: Better economy allows for a more positive stance
With the economy starting to gear up slowly, there is more room for a positive outlook and progressive choices. Both GL (Greenleft) and D66 (liberals) spreaded a positive message and succeeded in regaining their strategic voters from the PvdA while adding some new ones. Therefore their results improved from 4 to 16 (GreenLeft) and from 12 to 19 (D66).

So did we stop populism and clientelism here in the Netherlands?
While many here in the Netherlands are strongly hoping that our election message to Europe and the world is that populism has been put on hold here, I am afraid that conclusion is not justified. Some of the mainstream parties have adopted the populist positions of PVV, including some measures that are in conflict with treaties and basic human rights. Meanwhile the PVV has still grown and some smaller parties popped up that are more in the personal interest of the party leaders themselves than for the public.

My conclusion is therefore that populism and clientelism is still with us, even stronger than before. Due to its absorption in main stream politics and the specific Dutch electoral landscape outsiders, may be less able to identify this. But I would not be surprised if in other jurisdictions, with other electoral constellations, the trend of populisms and clientelism (Fillon) remains the main trend, just as it is here.

So, the Netherlands may have appeared to have stopped populism, but mind you, we didn't!