‘We do reasonable’ so why are Dutch voters abandoning the centre ground?
After years of backing catch-all centre parties, many in the Netherlands are turning towards to anti-politics-as-usual alternatives for the 15 March election
In Purmerend on market day, there is little to suggest the Netherlands may be on the brink of a populist uprising. Little, even, to show the country is days from an election widely portrayed though not, on the whole, by the Dutch as the next step in the overthrow of the liberal world order.
On Kaasmarkt, a queue waits patiently in the shadow of the Niklaas church to be served at the stall of Beuse, cheesemongers since 1928. On Koemarkt, the 15th-century cattle market that is now the towns main square, shoppers sip strong coffee in weak sunshine outside Caf Aad de Wolf, talking about anything but politics.
Its a bit strange, said Annemarie Akkerman, 38, a pharmaceuticals manager and liberal VVD party voter. We get the BBC and some US channels on the cable, you know, and theyre all like, thats it, the Dutch are next in line, for sure. And were: this is Holland, you know? We dont do that. We do reasonable.
But for all the bemusement of many Dutch voters at the global spotlight on the far right, anti-Islam Geert Wilders and the chances of his Freedom party (PVV) winning the parliamentary election on 15 March and prolonging the populist insurgency begun by the Brexit vote and Donald Trump, this remains a very strange election.
A PVV victory is still conceivable, although after leading the polls for nearly two years the party has now slipped to second behind the VVD of prime minister Mark Rutte whose overtly uncompromising stance in a diplomatic spat with Turkey this weekend will have done him no harm at all with voters tempted by Wilders anti-Islam rhetoric.
As many as 40% of voters are still undecided; as many as 15% will not make up their mind until voting day. But even if the PVV does finish top, Wilders is unlikely to enter government: no other major party will work with him.
The deeper story in the Netherlands is one of voters abandoning en masse the mainstream parties of centre right and centre left that have governed the country for the past half-century, and turning instead to an astonishing array of smaller, newer, anti-politics-as-usual parties from across the political spectrum.
With seats distributed by direct proportional representation and 70,000 votes enough to give a party one of parliaments 150 seats, the Dutch political landscape has never looked so fractured. A record 14 parties could end up with at least one MP, eight with 10 or more and six including the PVV with up to 25.
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