March the 16th turned out to be a vanguard of the late summer that is so warm and invigorating in Amsterdam, with its golden sun dancing through the trees and off the waters of the canals. The election was over and there was a sort of relieved buzz in the city, where the urbanite dwellers felt like the apparition of Geert Wilders had been warded off for another while now that the ritual has been completed.
The winners were clear this time around. The charismatic leader of GroenLinks, Jesse Klaver, whose party gained 10 new seats since the last election where they had four, and who represents a new movement of youth, optimism and sustainable thinking that politics have been ignoring for so long but is finally making their voice heard. The steady, well-spoken previous Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, whose VVD liberal-identifying-conservatives made a stand against the inroads of the far right.
The losers were also clear. The 20 seats Geert Wilders’s PVV received will allow him to be decisively ignored, since that is not enough to require him to be at the table in any sort of coalition. The PvdA (or traditional labour party) suffered the most catastrophic loss of the year by losing a whopping 29 seats in their limp attempt to attract left-leaning voters to their aged and growingly irrelevant and tired platform.
This time around, the Dutch got their brush with megalomaniacal authoritarianism as Turkey attempted to shake the European tree to see what fruit may fall out. The incident was clearly designed as a no-win situation for the Dutch by the manipulating spider that is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His immediate goal is the expansion of the presidency’s power where the executive powers of the republic would be more firmly entrenched in that office, a-la The United States. The controversial referendum is slated to happen in April, and the president and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been tirelessly campaigning to make it happen. Since the coup attempt against him, Erdogan has been seeking to consolidate his power in order to maintain it, as well as continue to wage the civil war against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in the eastern regions.
In an unprecedented situation, the Turkish government attempted to hold rallies for an evet vote in European cities with significant Turkish expatriate populations. The Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, was slated to visit and speak at one such rally in Rotterdam. The Dutch government promptly denied him entry into the country, and on the day of the rally, riot police were deployed around the office of the Turkish Consul in Rotterdam and the obviously sympathetic well educated female minister of Family and Social Policy Dr. Betül Sayan Kaya was sent in as a sacrificial pawn to try to enter the consul’s office. The Rotterdam police promptly deported her in a somewhat ugly public incident.
And of course, a predictable reaction came from the gold hair-triggered Wilders, which spread like wildfire through Turkish media as evidence of Erdoğan’s narrative of Europeans thumbing their nose at Turkey.
To Turkish people in the Netherlands, whether they were for evet or hayir, must have been alienating and humiliating. As I walked past Mercatorplein on the following afternoon, a tidy little park plaza in the neighbourhood where I live with a high population of Moroccan and Turk expatriates, a group of young school girls were crossing the street protesting with Turkish flags, with cars riding by giving reassuring honks of support.
Of the xenophobic voters who hovered their needle between Rutte’s VVD and Wilders’s PVV, Rutte’s riposte of the Turkish government’s attempt to rally in Rotterdam may have swayed those establishment right wing voters back to him in the short term, but the full implications of the incident have not yet fully been felt.
The debates too were an interesting series of events. Both Rutte and Wilders refused to take part in the debates with the centre and left parties on the pretext of the inclusion of an extra party which was projected to be of relevance, so that debate ended up being more a fight among opposition politicians. But a couple days before the actual election, Rutte and Wilders faced off in a celebrated main event where Rutte routed Wilders, no doubt swinging more votes his way from PVV. One of Rutte’s more memorable quotes was when he poked at Wilders saying that he “sits on the sofa using Twitter”. Wilders even ended up waffling on his well publicised Quran ban.
The Overton Window effect was a great magnifier for Rutte when shown next to the more extreme Wilders, and he came off as a sensible leader with pragmatic ideas and a solid track record, while Wilders appeared like a huffing, puffing manchild with anger problems.
As for Jesse Klaver, his GroenLinks party is riding high, with their refreshing idealism and big gains. Politics is a stamina game, and their positive swing puts them in great position for the next election. Klaver has his critics, but where he takes heat in his lofty ideas or level of experience, others in his party like Marjolein Meijer make up for it. A logical, well spoken and seasoned politician, her credentials speak for themselves, including a term in European Parliament.
The turnout was simply fantastic. There will be no sad regrets of abstaining like in the Brexit vote or in the election of Trump, as a whopping 80% of the eligible population turned out, maintaining a high level of participation for the citizenry.
And now, Mark Rutte is going to begin the process of trying to form his new government. His previous cabinet was made up of the coalition of his VVD and the now flattened Labour (what’s known as purple). This time around the formation will be a little more diverse. We will most likely see centre-right parties and right parties like Christian Democrats Appeal (CDA) and D66 step up to help govern. Both bring differing sets of ideas, but there will be some ideological continuity in the ideas of the liberal right.
A predictable result for an event the lead up to which saw exaggerated pop scares by the media of how the Netherlands will be the first domino to fall to populist right wingers. Eyes will now shift to Germany, where Angela Merkel will try to claw away her rivals along with the well publicised threat of Frauke Petry and her merry band of Alternative für Deutschland. The French too must vote for a president this year, where the battered incumbent François Hollande will not run, replaced by an actual socialist in Benoît Hamon who must bury not only the obvious nationalist danger of Marine Le Pen but also the quieter conservatism of François Fillon, a relic of the Sarkozy years.
And off in the distance, Russia will vote on a new president in 2018, and the current president Vladimir Putin has yet to announce if he will represent the United Russia party. The leadership of Russia will have a profound effect on the European continent. The palpable fear of Putin is rife in the media, who have conveniently blamed the twin abortions of Trump and Brexit on him — the narrative may be comforting for some to explain how their own countrymen could possibly vote for something so ridiculous, but also projects some kind of infinite mind control powers to Putin reminiscent of a cartoon villain.
In any case, the sun is slipping below the line of beautiful red brick houses, gradually leaving behind the cacophony of bike bells, children playing and the occasional hum of traffic. It is time for Amsterdam to sleep on their choices.