Dutch Elections and Geert Wilders, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Edward Bourke

One of the most headline-grabbing events in European electoral news this year, the 2017 Dutch election has seen the rise of the controversial far-right politician Geert Wilders, and his subsequent faltering at the polling booths. So, let’s examine the Dutch election and how such a divisive figure has polarised so many.

Dutch Elections:

Dutch election cycle:

  • Dutch elections take place approximately every 4 years (the maximum parliamentary term is 5 years).

Election system:

  • The House of Representatives in the Netherlands is elected using an open party list and proportional representation.

Who was voting?

  • Every Dutch citizen who is 18 or over can vote in a general election.

How many parties were on the ballot paper?

  • In total, 28 parties were listed on the 2017 ballot paper.

Geert Wilders:

Perhaps one of the most intriguing elements of this Dutch election cycle was the rise of far-right populist Geert Wilders – a man who is on both the ISIS and Al Qaida hit lists, has 24/7 security and has lived in a secret location for the past 12 years.

Brief Background:

Wilders was born to a Catholic family in the city of Venlo. Has the youngest of four children to a Dutch father, and a mother born in colonial Indonesia. Political Beginnings: Wilders was elected in 1997, for the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) to the municipal council of Utrecht. Just one year later (2002), he was elected for the same party, to the national parliament.

Party for Freedom (PVV):

In September 2004, after tensions within the VVD hit breaking point, Wilders resigned to create his own party – originally called Groep Wilders; but later renamed the Party for Freedom. It has been reported that his primary motivation for leaving the VVD was his refusal to support the Turkish membership of the EU.


Since he founded the Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders has been consistently popular. In 2009 a poll showed that the PVV had captured 21% of the national vote, which if replicated during an election, would result in Wilders’ party winning roughly 32 of 150 parliamentary seats. In the 2010 election, the PVV won 15.5 percent of the vote. Conversely, in the 2012 election the popularity of the PVV, although still quite strong decreased to 10.1%. The 2014 European Elections saw another rise in Wilders’ popularity, increasing from 13.3% in the previous European parliamentary elections to 17%. This was again counteracted by the 2015 provincial elections which saw a 0.7% drop in popularity.

2017 was tipped to be the big year for Geert Wilders and the PVV. Wilders’ party led the polls for months, with his popularity slipping just before election day. On election day, the PVV received 13.1% of the vote (second place to Mark Rutte’s 21.3%).

Why was the PVV so popular?

The reasons why a political party is popular is one of the hardest questions to answer. Every voter has a different story and the vast majority vote for different reasons. However, with the PVV’s divisive views on certain issues, one can attempt to ascertain the core voter beliefs that provided the cornerstone for their support.

For example, due to the PVV’s strong anti-Islam policy position; including policies such as, closing all Islamic schools and closing all mosques – one can easily draw the conclusion that voters are primary anti-Islam. This anti-Islam sentiment is likely caused by the European migrant crisis, and the perceived danger it has placed other European nations in. For example, police data shows that migrants committed 142,500 crimes in the first 6 months of 2016.


In the wake of Geert Wilders’ less than expected results, many outlets have claimed he was “defeated” however, when one assesses the situation, it is clear that this is not the case. Although the PVV did not gain as many seats as they first anticipated, they still gained 5 seats compared to the loss of 8 seats made my Mark Rutte’s VVD.

There was, however, one result in the 2017 election that was far more befitting of the world “defeat”, and that is the result of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) who lost 29 seats and 19.1% of the national vote.

What’s next?

Although they did not do as well as expected, the PVV is still a forced to be reckoned with, and after coming in second place, could form a fairly strong opposition – provided no coalitions emerge to frustrate their parliamentary proposals and challenge their attempt at forming an opposition.

It should also be noted that there is no guarantee that Mark Rutte’s party, the VVD, will form a government. Although they are the largest party – holding 33 of 150 seats – they do not have an outright majority. Therefore, although unlikely, the PVV or another prominent party, could join forces with other political parties to form a coalition. This is particularly unlikely in the case of the PVV, as other parties have already ruled out a coalition.

Image rights: metropolico.org @ Flickr


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