Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is fighting for his political life ahead of this week’s national elections in which 28 parties are vying for seats in the Netherlands’s 150-member lower house of parliament. Rutte’s center-right People’s Party (VVD) for Freedom and Democracy is projected to win 24 seats in Wednesday’s election, slightly ahead of Geert Wilders’s far-right Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), which is expected to gain 22. The projections are within the margin of error, but the winner will almost certainly form a coalition government with one of the many smaller parties that are expected to win the rest of the seats.
The elections are being regarded as the first of many pivotal European elections to take place this year, and the results stand to have an impact far beyond the Netherlands: it as a litmus test for the establishment candidate, Rutte, facing a far-right populist, Wilders—a test that will soon be replicated in the French elections in April and Germany’s in September.
For Rutte, who has been prime minister since 2010, this election is an opportunity to remind voters of his accomplishments since he assumed office in the midst of the global financial crisis. At the time, he was given the task of addressing economic reform and tackling unemployment, which now stands at 5.3 percent, a five-year low. Dr. Andrej Zaslove, an assistant professor of political science at the Radboud University Nijmegen, told me this was among Rutte’s greatest successes.