Discontent behind the Dutch election results

By Mike Phipps

Wednesday’s parliamentary elections in the Netherlands saw Prime Minister Mark Rutte win a fourth term, with his centre-right VVD party winning most seats – although that’s only 35 out of 150. Forming a stable coalition is likely to take some time.

The centre-left D66 party was the other winner of the night with 24 seats. Socially liberal and pro-EU, D66 was part of Rutte’s outgoing coalition. Its support surged – at the expense of the Christian Democratic Appeal, the other coalition partner.

Geert Wilders’ far-right party lost ground with 17 seats. Turnout was high at 82.6%.

Superficially, the result appears to be a win for centrist stability. Behind the headlines, however, there are more ominous features. The early election happened because the Dutch cabinet collapsed over a racist child benefit scandal.

An estimated 26,000 parents were wrongfully accused of benefit fraud. Some victims were financially ruined by being forced to pay back tens of thousands of euros. The tax service ethnically profiled its victims, singling out those with dual nationality, although this aspect of the scandal was omitted from the remit of the parliamentary inquiry into the scandal.

The witch hunt began 15 years ago and most victims are still awaiting compensation.

Writing recently on Open Democracy, Laura Basu noted: ”We are the last country in Europe to start vaccinating and have the second highest wealth inequality in the rich world. Our print media is owned by just two corporations and we are performing worse on climate change than our European neighbours… The Netherlands is a mess.”

As elsewhere, the country is polarising. Neoliberal reforms that saw healthcare privatised, housing and labour markets deregulated and the public sector decimated accelerated after the 2008 financial crash. Between 2011 and 2016, Rutte-led cabinets implemented austerity measures worth €47.4bn, including big cuts to public sector pay and social security. Homelessness has doubled over the last decade and nearly a third of the workforce is in precarious jobs.

The racist right are successfully exploiting the discontent. In Wednesday’s elections, the far-right Forum for Democracy made more gains than any other party, quadrupling its seats to eight.  Its “freedom caravan” rallied crowds against the coronavirus lockdown in protests that quickly turned violent.  Several nights of rioting – the worst for decades – shook the country in January.

Allegations of racism have dogged the Forum for Democracy’s leading politicians. Its youth wing has been accused of antisemitism, homophobia and the glorification of mass killers Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarran.

The scandal initially obliged Forum for Democracy leader Thierry Baudet to stand down in November. Thierry is strongly anti-immigrant and believes the EU is a ‘cultural Marxist’ project aimed at destroying European civilisation. He himself was accused of making anti-semitic statements, claiming that the COVID-19 lockdowns were concocted by George Soros.

An internal party referendum saw over three-quarters of members back Baudet. In protest at the outcome, three of the party’s MEPs and seven Senators resigned. Baudet resumed the leadership in December 2020 and led his party to significant gains this week.

The rising influence of the racist right has already permeated mainstream institutions, as the child benefit scandal shows. A recent study found that a white person with a criminal record was three times more likely to be hired for a job than a person of colour without a criminal record.  A person with a non-western migration background is fourteen times as likely to die in police custody as a Dutch person.

One party that foregrounds the anti-racist struggle is BIJ1 (‘Together’). Its leader, the Surinamese-born Sylvana Simons, is well-known in the Netherlands as a former presenter for Dutch MTV. She received a deluge of racist abuse after appearing on a current affairs show in 2015 to condemn the Dutch tradition of dressing up in blackface as Black Pete, a character associated with the Dutch festival of Sinterklaas. The following year she decided to enter politics on an anti-capitalist platform of radical equality and economic justice.

Simons is set to become the only black MP in parliament. Her party got 0.7% of the vote.

The left made little impact in the elections, the Labour Party (PvdA) finishing unchanged on nine seats, a repetition of its worst ever showing in 2017. The Socialist Party and the Green Left each lost almost half their seats to finish with respectively nine and seven seats.

Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/iraqfocusHis book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.

Image: Mark Rutte, Prime Minister, The Netherlands. Source: Mark Rutte. Author: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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