Four parties are vying for electoral victory in the Netherlands in the final stretch of the campaign | International

Four parties are vying for electoral victory in the Netherlands
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Pieter Omtzigt, leader of the New Social Contract, on the 10th in Amersfoort.PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW (REUTERS)

The Netherlands goes to the polls this Wednesday in legislative elections marked by the absence of the liberal Mark Rutte, who will leave national politics after having served as prime minister since 2010. His departure has triggered a generational change in most of the parties in liza, who have focused their debates on issues such as housing, health and immigration. Two other factors have been added to the batch of new candidates. On the one hand, the revolution caused by the New Social Contract, a center-right group founded last August by former Christian Democrat MP Pieter Omtzigt, which almost all of its opponents try to attract. On the other, the turn of Geert Wilders, the best-known leader of the national extreme right, who no longer considers it a priority to reject Islam head-on.

The result is a flow of electoral polls with four groups vying for first place. The latest, from, places the right-wing liberals of Rutte's party and Omtzigt in the lead, both with 26 seats. They are followed by the alliance formed by social democrats and environmentalists, led by former European commissioner Frans Timmermans, and the new moderate version of Wilders, who would tie with 23 deputies. Another recent survey by I&O Research reflects that “three out of four voters are unsure of their vote, and those who doubt will make the difference in the end.” Given the figures used, according to the experts of this demographic company, “it seems clear that New Social Contract will be in the next coalition.”

The 26 parties running in these elections have a total of 1,126 candidates on their lists. Whoever wins will have to agree on a government coalition, a tradition that dates back to the 19th century in the country. Hence the debates can be tough, but without breaking all the bridges. Until now, however, no one has wanted to have the extreme right of Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Executive. Nor to another similar formation, Forum for Democracy (FvD), headed by Thierry Baudet. The furthest Wilders has gone is to support Rutte's first government from Congress. It happened between 2010 and 2012, when the xenophobic leader had 24 seats out of a total of 150. In any case, he ended up causing the fall of the Cabinet by not supporting the financial adjustments that were proposed. At the moment, with 16 seats, Wilders' situation seems different. Both Dilan Yesilgöz, head of the right-wing liberals (VVD), and Caroline van der Plas, visible head of the Peasant-Citizen Movement (BBB), refuse to rule out a possible collaboration with him.

Yesilgöz is trying to combine his desire to dialogue with Wilders – who no longer sees the urgency of banning the Koran or mosques – with gaining an electorate that is more dispersed than ever. The VVD that she represents has been leading coalitions for a decade and she herself is a novelty, as she could be the first woman to become prime minister in the history of the Netherlands. Born in Ankara, she is the daughter of refugees, and her firmness in limiting family reunification of these groups contributed to bringing down Rutte's fourth and final government last July. During the campaign, she has made two postulates clear: that she stands for what she defends and that the current asylum rules “leave both the Dutch and genuine refugees in the lurch.” That is why she prefers to promote “welcome in the regions of origin.” Regarding her ideology, she assures: liberalism “consists of being there if they need us and leaving people alone the rest of the time.” Although the pools regarding possible coalitions change every day, her preference would be one between her party, Omtzigt's party, the Christian Democracy (CDA) and the BBB.

Caroline van der Plas is the other candidate who advocates dialogue with the extreme right. The BBB is the voice of agrarian populism, and with only one seat in Congress – its own – it managed to gain the majority of the Senate in March. Although she has lost some shine with the arrival of Omtzigt, she would like to go to his side in a coalition where the VVD was also present. “Pieter [Omtzigt] He is in favor of democracy and the rule of law. If you think like that, you have to talk to a party [el de Wilders] which has 1.5 million voters behind it. That is also democratic.” Wilders, possibly facing the last opportunity of his career to touch some power, appears calm. He explains it by saying that he has been in politics long enough to know “that after the elections everything can flow again.” He is 60 years old and has been a deputy for 25 years.

Collaborating with the extreme right is a possibility that Omtzigt says he does not contemplate. Especially because he considers the ideas of the leader of the group "contrary to the Constitution and fundamental rights." If he wins the elections, his government would be formed by “a group of experts for each ministry with a government agreement that is not set in stone and can be controlled by Congress.” The third and penultimate Executive led by Rutte resigned en bloc in January 2021 due to a scandal in which thousands of families, mostly of immigrant origin, were wrongly accused of fraud. The Spanish lawyer Eva González Pérez uncovered the irregularities and Omtzigt stirred the national conscience by denouncing the situation in Congress. Despite the prestige thus gained, he has only admitted this weekend his willingness to be prime minister. He promotes reform of the Dutch state and proposes the creation of a Constitutional Court, a body that few of his opponents find useful.

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The return of Timmermans

This candidate's reluctance to acknowledge that he aspires to his place in La Torrecita, in The Hague - where the official office of the Dutch leaders is located - contrasts with the frankness of one of his main rivals. He is the social democrat Frans Timmermans, returned from Brussels, where he was first vice president of the European Commission. He claims that he wants to be prime minister, but only if his party's alliance with the green left (PvdA/GroenLinks) wins the majority of votes. Timmermans was Foreign Minister between 2012 and 2014, and wants to avoid the formation of a right-wing government. He is almost the only candidate who has mentioned the war in Ukraine and the war between Israel and Gaza in the election campaign, and has called for “a ceasefire.” Although he supports fighting Hamas, he warns that “it cannot be achieved with bombings.” The situation in the Gaza Strip has not been part of the debates prior to the elections, although there have been citizen demonstrations in favor of the Palestinians, and the Dutch Jewish community reports an increase in anti-Semitism. Congress will analyze it on November 23, the day after the elections.

In the new Dutch electoral landscape, the Christian Democrats, the left-wing liberals (D66) and the Christian Union, members of the outgoing coalition, have dropped points in the polls. All of them are below 10 seats, although the experience of other elections shows that the biggest changes occur a few days before the vote. Without a day of reflection, the campaign will go down to the last minute.

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