Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Dutch election - bigots appear to fall short

The main exit poll indicates that the largest party in Parliament will remain the center-party of Mark Rutte, the prime minister, with 31 of 150 seats. He has moved rightward in recent months, making tougher pronouncements on immigration but steering clear of the xenophobic and borderline racist statements of other parties.
• The far-right populist party of Geert Wilders gained seats, but did not perform as strongly as expected. Exit polls suggested that it was tied for second place with the conservative party Christian Democratic Appeal and the center-left pro-European party Democrats 66 — each with 19 seats. Also making a relatively strong showing were the left-leaning Greens, with 16 seats. The leftist, euroskeptic Socialist Party is projected to have 14 seats.
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Members of the Green Party celebrated a strong showing in exit polls. Credit Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
• The big loser appears to be the mainstream Labor party, which had governed with the mainstream conservatives led by Mr. Rutte. The exit poll put it in seventh place, with nine seats.
• Turnout was 82 percent, the highest in decades.
• All 150 seats in the lower (and more powerful) house of Parliament are up for grabs. It takes a simple majority, 76 seats, to govern. Coalitions are the norm. The landscape is highly fragmented, with 11 parties represented in the current Parliament and 13 parties expected to be in the next one.
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Election workers counted ballots by hand at a polling station set up in a church in Amsterdam. Credit Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press
• Fears of hacking and outside interference are rife, so all vote tallying will be done by hand.

Populism has been stronger in the past

“Democracy is definitely alive,” said Mark Bovens, a political scientist at Utrecht University, noting the high turnout. “The nationalist parties have won seats, compared to 2012 — Wilders’s party has gained seats, as has a new party, the Forum for Democracy — but their electorate is stable; it has not grown. And some of the traditional parties have moved in a more nationalistic direction, taking a bit of wind out of his sails. You see the same strategy in Germany.”
Mr. Bovens noted that an earlier populist movement led by the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn won 26 seats in 2002 and that Mr. Wilders’s won 24 seats in 2010. So even if Mr. Wilders’s party rises to 19 seats, from 15 in the current Parliament, as the exit poll projects, it will be still lower than the previous high-water marks. (Mr. Wilders is an ideological descendent of Mr. Fortuyn, who was assassinated right before the 2002 election.) — SEWELL CHAN

Reactions from the Dutch, and Europe

In a victory speech broadcast live on television, Mr. Rutte said “the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said ‘No’ to the wrong kind of populism.”
Mr. Wilders, in a tweet, noted that his party had gained seats but did not quite declare a triumph. “Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!” he wrote on Twitter.
His nemesis Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, called the result in the Netherlands a “vote for Europe, a vote against extremists.”
At the Christian Democratic Appeal’s party, which was held in a tram museum, the crowd cheered the party’s projected second-place finish (in a three-way tie).
“Honestly, I’m just happy that the P.V.V. is not as big as we feared,” said Robbert-Jan van Duyn, a 29-year-old alderman from the city of Almere, referring to Mr. Wilders’s party, the Party for Freedom.
Guests in the refurbished red-brick depot credited the party’s apparent success to its charismatic leader, Sybrand Buma, and the fact that the party was not part of government during the last four years, when painful cuts were introduced by the coalition of Mr. Rutte’s party and the Labour Party.
Mr. Buma had himself tacked rightward in recent days, but his supporters did not seem concerned. “It was a way of reaching out to people who felt like they weren’t being heard,” said Mark van de Fliert, a 26-year-old student of foreign policy who volunteered as a youth organizer. “I don’t see him as a populist. Quite the opposite: I see him as really stable.” — SEWELL CHAN and CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE
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Voters at the Kerkhovense Molen, a windmill turned polling station in Oisterwijk. Credit Peter Dejong/Associated Press

Voting everywhere

It is hard to imagine a place where it is easier to vote than in the Netherlands. If you’re a commuter going to work in one of the larger Dutch cities, chances are there will be a voting tent set up in the train station where you board and where you get off.
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A woman filled out her ballot at a polling station set up in the living room of a home in Marle. Credit Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press
If you were taking high tea at the Hotel Des Indes in The Hague, there was a voting booth one flight up from the wood-paneled lobby.
Shopping at a grocery store or going to a bar? Some have tables with makeshift voting booths.
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People voted at a polling station inside a bar in Kinderdijk. Credit Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Playing football or working out? You can vote at sports complexes. You can also vote in community centers, mosques and churches, libraries, homes for the aged and concert halls.
Voters don’t have to live where they vote, so those vacationing on islands in the North Sea can walk into local polling places and cast their ballots. In the village of Schiermonnikoog on the island of the same name, 105 percent of the population had already voted as of 5 p.m. The extras were visitors to the island.
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A mobile polling station in The Hague. Credit Emmanuel Dunand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In this country with 12.9 million eligible voters, there are 9,000 polling places, so the lines are relatively short and all voters need to show is their registration card anywhere in the municipality where they live. (Those voting outside their municipality need a special pass.)
Most polling sites are open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., but one — a flower kiosk in the train station at Castricum, in the north — got a head start. It opened just after the stroke of midnight, and by 1 a.m., 97 people had cast ballots there.
— ALISSA J. RUBIN and CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE
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Volunteers at polling stations said voter turnout was high. Credit John Thys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Turnout is up from 2012

As of 9 p.m., 82 percent of the electorate had voted, up from 75 percent in the 2012 parliamentary elections.
Some polling stations were running out of ballot papers, according to the national broadcaster NOS.
“It’s already a record,” Jan den Boer, 60, the administrator of a community center in The Hague that adjoins the city’s largest supermarket, Albert Heijn, said in the afternoon.
As he munched on a meat sandwich known as a broodje bal, he said: “We’ve already had 900 people vote, maybe more; people are coming in all day. Usually it’s just the morning and evening after work.”
“They always say it’s important to vote, and this year there’s more of a difference between parties.”
At a voting station the southern town of Sittard, a veteran election monitor who was distributing ballots said: “I have never seen anything quite like this. Today people started early and they’re still coming. It’s been nonstop.”
— ALISSA J. RUBIN and MARLISE SIMONS

Islam a concern for Wilders voters

Brendan Groeneveld, 30, who works in tech support in the city of Almere, east of Amsterdam, said he was supporting Mr. Wilders’s Party for Freedom primarily because of his hobby: Airsport, a gladiator-like pastime similar to paintball, but that uses toys nearly indistinguishable from real firearms, he said.
“It is legal, but uncertainties in Dutch law are giving the players a lot of headaches, in regards to some peripheral items,” he said. The Party for Freedom supports expanding the legal use of firearms, he said, “and they’ll at least give more transparency and clarity in regards to what’s allowed and what’s not.” (Mr. Groeneveld added that he would also like to be able to have real firearms for hunting.)
Mr. Groeneveld said that his mother was Canadian and his wife was American, but expressed worries about Islam. “A lot of Dutch culture is giving way to other cultures, and Islam is the most in-your-face, an obnoxious one,” he said.
He said that he agreed when Mr. Wilders talked in public several times about trying to reduce the number of Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands. “We’re all supposed to be Dutch — one society, one culture — and they persist in standing out,” he said. “I don’t really like that. I’m also of the opinion that specifically Islam is stuck in the Middle Ages. The rest of the world has adapted to modern times; they’re insisting on public executions and decapitations.” — NINA SIEGAL
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Jesse Klaver, the Green Party leader, left, with campaign workers after voting in The Hague. Credit Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A young leader on the move

On the other end of the spectrum from Mr. Wilders is a new figure: Jesse Klaver, 30, the leader of the Greens. The party holds just four seats in Parliament but seems poised to make big gains.
Younger, more energetic and more openly urban and cosmopolitan than many of his rivals, Mr. Klaver has made an unabashed appeal to voters in larger cities and their suburbs, emphasizing the country’s international image as a place that welcomes refugees, protects the environment and has a dynamic postindustrial economy.
The son of a Moroccan father (whom Mr. Klaver says he did not know) and an Indonesian-Dutch mother, Mr. Klaver was raised as a Catholic — a minority in this largely secular nation — and started his career with the National Coalition of Christian Trade Unions.
With looks that remind many people of a younger Justin Trudeau and an American style of campaigning that included a big final rally that was styled as a “meet-up” with drinks, he is a charismatic newcomer.
“The traditional parties are not winning elections anymore,” he said in an interview. “What we try to do is to build a movement that is bigger than the traditional parties. What we want to do is to fight populism.” — ALISSA J. RUBIN

 

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