o the ever lengthening list of Far-Right parties forming governments or coming within striking distance of capturing power in one European country after another is added the resounding victory of the Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders of the Netherlands. It has won 37 of the 150 seats in the Dutch Parliament. If the number appears to be far too short of a simple majority, that is misleading since the incumbent party led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte got less number of seats when it formed a coalition government the last time. The poll dynamics in the Netherlands is such that the party winning more seats than any other rival, however small the number is, is in a position to forge a coalition and form government. That represents the danger to liberal and established parties in the Netherlands and across Europe. The victory of Wilders is an alarming continuation of a recent trend in democracies that have seen populist, Far-Right parties flourish and traditional parties decline.
National-conservative or Far-Right parties are already in power, on their own strength or in coalition, in Italy, Sweden, Hungary and Slovakia. They are rising in the polls in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Belgium and France.
No Dutch party with Far-Right leanings had ever secured more than 20 per cent of the vote in a national election. In Europe’s political landscape, it is an achievement for any party to cross that threshold. Yet Geert Wilders’ PVV has accomplished the feat with ease. That marks a grave threat in European politics with the potential to spill over to other continents as well.
The danger that Wilders poses is his aggressive campaign on a nakedly Islamophobic manifesto, which called for bans on mosques and the Quran. He has won a quarter of the vote. His party’s tally is 12 more than its closest rival and nearly double its own in the last election. The PVV’s political agenda has all the ingredients of Far-Right politics – rejecting all asylum claims, drastically reducing overall levels of immigration, rolling back climate legislation and holding a referendum on leaving the European Union. The party is also opposed to sending more arms to Ukraine.
As he attempts to cobble up a coalition-government he is expected to follow the pattern of Far-Right parties in other countries falling far short of the required number in their bid to capture power. The easy route is to tone down for the time being the extreme Rightist rhetoric as a tactical move to gain acceptance by probable coalition partners that are allergic to any downright ultra-Right political agenda. Already, Wilders has started talking about putting on hold his electoral pledges of shutting mosques and banning the Quran. Such a climbdown is caused by the likelihood of an alternative Centrist coalition being formed excluding the PVV from power altogether. As hectic behind-the-scene activities are on, it appears that the two main Centre-Right parties, including Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), are giving a thought to clinching such a deal.
One reason for Wilders getting political legitimacy in the form of winning the highest number of seats seems to be the decision of mainstream parties on the Right, including the VVD, to endorse his anti-migrant agenda. That was a mistake to play second fiddle to Wilders on this issue. The voters seem to have preferred the original party that talked against migrants to the ones that copied the original. The poll results confirm it. Dilan Yesilgöz, the Dutch justice minister who succeeded Rutte as leader of the liberal VVD party, saw fit to position herself further to the Right than the outgoing Prime Minister and let immigration dominate the electoral debate. In the process the VVD lost 10 seats, down from 34 to 24.
The main reason for Wilders’ success is the acute crisis of trust of the electorate in traditional politics. In one survey this autumn, 72 per cent of respondents said that they believed the country was on the wrong path. Another poll found a “worrisome” level of dissatisfaction on the Right with the functioning of democracy. The failure of the established political parties – Left, Right and Centre – to deliver is fuelling the growth of hate-filled Far-Right politics.
Unless liberal, democratic parties immediately get their act together and formulate and implement policies to mitigate the economic and cost of living crisis of the common man, the Far-Right is most likely to dominate the political landscape across the world. This is ominous for freedom-loving, liberal populace.