International Current Affairs

Dutch parliamentary election result: Is it beginning of decline of right wing populism and nationalism?

From the results and trends it is clear now that  Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte is on the path of winning largest share of votes and seats by defeating the far right extreme leadership represented by anti-Islam and populist Geert Wilders. The Dutch parliamentary election on March 15 and Rutte’s resounding victory is being seen a test for resurgent nationalism before other key European polls. The analysts and observers were curiously waiting for the results to assess whether there is end of liberal democracy for a while in Europe and populist right wing will continue to assert again in the Netherlands.

 After last’s year British vote to leave the European Union and the election of US President Donald Trump, the observers were not sure that a moderate Centre right leader would win in the country. But it is going to happen in the country. Prime Minister Mark Rutte is on course for a resounding victory over anti-Islam and anti-EU Geert Wilders in the Dutch parliamentary election. It came as a relief for other EU governments facing a wave of nationalism. However the analysts feel that even with Rutte’s victory Mr Wilders and the the far-right movement across Europe would not quietly fade away.

With nearly 95% of votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right, liberal VVD was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament. Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to finish second, but a long way behind on 20 seats, just ahead of the Christian Democrat CDA and liberal-progressive D66, which both ended third with 19 seats.

In his election night victory pary Rutte said, ““Our message to the Netherlands – that we will hold our course, and keep this country safe, stable and prosperous – got through.” ….After Britain’s shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the US, he added, the eyes of the world had been on the vote: “This was an evening when … the Netherlands said ‘Stop’ to the wrong sort of populism.”

However observers feel that Wilders would not relent on his zealot nationalism, anti Islam stance and demand for restraining the immigrants. He can continue to flare these ideas and drag the Dutch debate onto his chosen territory of immigration and integration. Rutte adopted parts of Wilders’ rhetoric during the campaign, including telling immigrants to respect Dutch norms and values or leave.

Reasons for right wing populism

The global recession after the sub-prime crisis (2008) in the US and the Sovereign debt crisis in Europe (2010), the trust of people in globalization and liberalization based models of development and all  the governments that followed the same policies was jolted. Despite several pointers given by economists like Joseph Stieglitz and Paul Krugman, the asymmetric development resulting from the new global growth model, the leaders failed to address the problem of inequality and stagnating wages and rising unemployment, especially for the people down the ladder. This has given opportunities to many leaders to see a political opportunity in protectionism and nationalism.  They not only highlighted negative trade balances, but also overflow of emigrants in the domestic economies as the main reason for unemployment and crimes. And when things are not right, then populism, based on slogans and propaganda offering quick fixes, is lapped up by the desperate people. The experience from the world history shows that the ideas of extreme nationalism and economic protectionism were responsible for wars and inefficient economies. The very idea of interdependence of the countries in the world flowing from natural law is threatened. Globalisation is not an idea based on colonialism and imperialism and it is presumed to be democratic and inclusive at both the levels, intra national and international levels. If globalization fails in realizing these goals, then there is certainly growing space for populism and right wing nationalism.     In the referendum for the Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in US Presidential election, these underlining trends are quite visible.

Will rise of right wing recede?

But it is too early to forecast the end of populist and rightist politics.  From emerging economies to developed economies the trend is still rampant and could be seen from India to Australia and France. Although in Austria and Greece the liberals won last  year, yet the spread of popular right wing has not abated. Mr Van der Bellen, 72, won with about 53% of the votes. Mr Van der Bellen called the result a vote for a “pro-European” Austria based on “freedom, equality and solidarity”. He said , “Finally, you know, I will try to be an open-minded, a liberal-minded and first of all a pro-European federal president of the Republic of Austria.” Greece’s leftwing leader Alexis Tsipras in September 2015 Greek legislative election  emerged triumphant from a snap general election after securing a dramatic victory over his conservative rival, despite a turbulent first term in office. His party Syriza had claimed about 35.5% of the vote as against the main conservative challengers New Democracy on 28.1%. Conservative leader, Vangelis Meimarakis conceded defeat. The election resulted in an unexpectedly-large victory for Alexis Tsipras’ Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which fell 6 seats short of an absolute majority and was able to reform its coalition government with the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL).  But these are exceptions and bigger countries like India and the US and now France have seen substantial rise in the appeal of the right wing nationalist and populist parties and leaders and Europe is also not an exception.

We can see France for example. Marine Le Pen, the face and leader of the French far-right Front National party, believes France should exit the European Union, drop the euro, and fight radical Islam, and not necessarily in that order. In a recent speech she said,  “The division is no longer between the right and the left,” “but between patriots and [believers in] globalization.” Le Pen officially launched her bid for the French presidency by making extremely right wing nationalist call to fight against the “two totalitarianisms” — “globalization” and “Islamic fundamentalism” and calling the French election as a “crossroads” moment with “a choice of civilization” meaning, in this case, French identity. We can understand from the choice of words, how she is playing with the fears, disappointments and wounds of the people. While Le Pen’s ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-globalization message was not a surprise — she has long campaigned on these pillars — what has shocked observers is her reach. Under Le Pen, the Front National (FN) has gone from a fringe party to a viable contender in the next French elections.

What’s troubling the Liberal democracy?

But of course, there is some sign of hope for liberal democracy. Yascha Mounk of Harvard University writes, “ It’s worth pausing for a moment to examine the cause for this celebration in (Netherlands and Europe): Geert Wilders is about as nasty a right-wing populist as they come. Persistently inciting hatred against immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, he promised in the run-up to the Dutch elections that he would close down all mosques and ban the Quran.”He added in his article on that liberal democracy would not easily surrender or put into oblivion by the new right wing populism, but it needs to ponder on its failures.

Indifference of liberal democracy towards peoples’ woes is a bad omen

 Yascha Mounk writes further, “While the stagnation of living standards and the rise of inequality have been all too real, most citizens of developed democracies still enjoy remarkable affluence. And while the reality of mass migration really has created social and economic tensions, the citizens of liberal democracies still get to live their lives freely, surrounding themselves (if they so choose) with people who are just like them. Unlike the proletarians whom Karl Marx exhorted to shed their chains, most people have rather a lot to lose.”….. “But just because liberalism is resilient doesn’t mean that it is here to stay, as a frighteningly large group of complacent observers seems determined to believe. This group is intent on ignoring the warning signs of political instability. It does not want to admit that the world is changing in front of our eyes—in good part, I suspect, because acknowledging that scary reality would require them to do a lot of thinking, and thinking is hard. These are the people who believe that Hillary Clinton only lost because of racism, or sexism, or Russia. And these are also the people who celebrate every election—from Austria to Iceland—in which a populist doesn’t win an outright majority as a great comeback of liberal democracy.”

Divided Social democratic parties cannot curb rise of right wing populist parties

Yascha Mounk also said that the votes against the right wing- populism is getting highly divided and so the chances of stopping such tendencies would be less in future, if fragmentation of liberal parties continue. “In the past decades, many new parties appeared, and the vote share of the two parties that had once been dominant plummeted. In many countries, Social Democratic parties suffered most of these losses. Shortly before his untimely death, Tony Judt warned that social democracy may be headed for irrelevance or even extinction. The Dutch elections are another reason to think that his fear was depressingly prescient. The result is an increasingly fragmented political landscape: The Green Party has gone from about 2 percent to about 10 percent—with an exotic mix of other small parties also celebrating significant gains. For the first time in the history of the Netherlands, it will take four parties to form a government, raising the prospect of difficult negotiations and the risk of unstable governance.”

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