The European establishment is relieved after Dutch voters turned out en masse Wednesday to hand Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) a decisive victory over its far-right challenger, Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), which fared worse than expected.
“The Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said ‘whoa!’ to the wrong kind of populism,” Rutte told supporters Wednesday night after the VVD claimed its third consecutive election victory.
Indeed, Rutte’s party made a strong showing in a race most pollsters projected would be tight. The VVD emerged as the single-biggest party with 33 seats in the 150-seat parliament (down from the 41 seats it claimed in 2012), followed by the PVV, which claimed 20 (up from 15 in 2012). The remaining seats were split among nearly a dozen other parties, with the centrist Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal progressive D66 Party tying for third with 19 seats each, and the Green-Left earning 14 (nearly quadrupling the number of seats it had). The Labour Party (PvdA), the VVD’s coalition partner, had a poor showing, slumping from 38 seats to nine.
Though Wilders’s underperformance was heralded by many as Europe’s rejection of extremism and a sign of populism’s defeat, Andrej Zaslove, an assistant professor of political science at the Radboud University Nijmegen, told me this doesn’t tell the full story.