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Rutte’s Benefit of the Failing Left
2016-09-22 10:51:02 DEN HAAG - Premier Mark Rutte in debat met PVV-fractievoorzitter Geert Wilders tijdens de voortzetting van de Algemene Politieke Beschouwingen, die traditioneel volgen op Prinsjesdag. ANP BART MAAT

Rutte’s Benefit of the Failing Left

Less than half a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, and the discussion whether he should be taken seriously, but not literally, can be ended. President Trump, contrary to many expectations, has been carrying out many of his campaign promises that nobody expected to take literally.

With the signing of several executive orders on different political aspects, Trump left no doubts about his intentions towards the upcoming four years. Whereas he, little after his victory over Hillary Clinton, seemed to be backing down on numerous statements, he now leaves no questioning about the execution of his plans.

The construction of the famous wall on the US-Mexico border, the immediate instruction of federal agencies to stop enforcing any aspects of Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the pavement of the road towards the Dakota Access Pipeline, the withdrawal out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the halt on abortion funds abroad, and as total anti-climax the executive order to temporarily ban any immigrant from several Muslim countries are just a small selection out of a wider, and to become even wider, list. Surprisingly, Trump did not include countries in the ban where he is keeping businesses.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), tweeted shortly after this news his satisfaction about this radical change of American policy. He even added that he hoped that more Islamic countries would become part of the ban, specifically naming Saudi Arabia. Apparently, Wilders has no knowledge about the power that the oil gives the Saudis in Washington.

Wilders was not the only far-right politician who responded delightfully towards the immigration restriction. Along with him, Marine Le Pen (Front National, France) stated that the only thing that really bothers the media, is that Trump is actually holding up to his promises made during campaigning. Matteo Salvini (Lega Nord, Italy) also spoke out his empathy towards Trump, saying that he would like the same to be done for Italy, claiming that “an invasion is underway”. Nigel Farage (Brexit-supporter) argued that by creating the ban Trump “is honouring his pledge to stop ISIS”. Ironically, all these politicians communicated by what seems to be the only way of communicating for populists, Twitter.

Wilders, with the Dutch elections soon to be hold on March 17th, is desperately trying to become the next far-right leader in the Western world. These elections are shifting towards an abnormal one, considering several political parties that have a substantial part of the seats of the 150 in total in the current polls. Keeping in mind that, more or less, all the parties that somehow have to be taken seriously, excluded the PVV in any form of coalition after the elections, an interesting political playground is revealing.

Mark Rutte, the current prime-minister, already took a step forward in this area. With two remarkable campaign steps, he has been paving the way for a very interesting last one and a half months of campaigning in the Netherlands.

Firstly, two weeks ago, Rutte claimed that his party, the right-wing liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), will under no circumstance form a coalition with Wilders’ PVV after the elections. An interesting decision, keeping in mind that the VVD and the PVV are currently holding respectively around 25 and 30 seats in the polls, therefore being the biggest parties right now.

Publishing a letter in all Dutch newspapers with as most significant outline “if you don’t like it here, then go away”, was Rutte’s second move in this shifting political playground, just a couple of days after his declaration of excluding the PVV. With these two steps, Rutte seems to be aiming at a one-on-one race with Wilders’ PVV. This became evidently clear when both parties stated that too many other parties are participating in the official election debates.

Rutte faces great inconvenience if the amount of participating parties rises. Namely, expected is that all party leaders are willing to debate with him, because this can only lead to more electoral popularity for their own sake. Rutte is absolutely unhappy with this, because it decreases his time to attack his main opponent in the polls: Wilders.

For Wilders, Rutte is the extreme personification of everything that went wrong for the past 4 years. According to him, Rutte has been responsible for the extreme malaise that this country allegedly is suffering right now. Typical for his far-right populistic agenda, he mainly focuses on the refugee flow from the war-torn regions of the Middle East, an exit out of the European Union (EU), and the Dutch population which, according to him, has been let down by Rutte.

The remarkable political playground that is revealing right now is the following one: By excluding the PVV under any circumstance, Rutte knows that he will not be able to increase his electoral power on the political right side of his party (i.e. the PVV) anymore, which already had been proven to be extremely difficult. This subsequently means that he will be trying to find electoral power on the left side of his party. Because both the VVD and the PVV are the biggest parties in the current polls, it is hugely unlikely to happen that neither of these parties will be a part of the formed coalition after the elections.

With his two campaign steps that are defined above, Rutte is attempting to create huge benefit out of these polls. By focusing on a one-on-one race with Wilders, Rutte is trying to show the country that, for the next coalition, it is either him or Wilders. The polls, together with his statement of excluding Wilders under all terms, as well as Wilders’ attitude towards him, back this claim up. Therefore, many voters of the left political spectrum of this country will be considering if a vote for their preferred party (one in the center-right, center-left, or even on the left) will be a wasted vote.

Many voters that normally would never vote for Rutte are actually considering doing it in order to prevent the worst-case scenario: Wilders’ PVV as the biggest party, winning with an amount of seats that is unable to be ignored by other parties – even if they wanted to. Therefore, strategical votes on his left side are Rutte’s last call, and his campaign will now be entirely focusing on this strategy. Though an unlikely move, it is not surprising. Rutte knows that removing PVV-voters to his own party is too complicated, as well as too late. Wilders has been doing a good job on framing Rutte on everything that is currently wrong with this country, at least to his opinion.

If Rutte succeeds with this campaign remains to be seen. What is crystal clear at this moment is that the Dutch elections, however small, are going to be rather very decisive on the geopolitical aspects of the rest of the world. The Dutch elections are going to set the tone for the other two tremendously important elections coming up later this year, in France and in Germany. If Wilders achieves an enormous electoral win over the other parties, other countries will definitely be far more likely to fall for the far-right populist parties as well, which consequently leads to a less stable environment for the EU.

Many voters, as well as political leaders, are blaming Rutte for his campaign style. His letter in the newspapers brought quite some uproar in particular. Yet they are blaming Rutte for what most left-wing politicians have failed to do: stepping up against Wilders, in a one-on-one political fight. All the left-wing parties have, even after these four years of Rutte, still not found out what they can efficiently do to fight the populism that Wilders is propagating. These parties are making the exact same mistakes as Hillary Clinton has made during the American presidential elections. Calling these voters “deplorables”, or simply just not taking them seriously will absolutely not defeat the problem called populism most Western countries are facing right now. Rutte saw this trend, acknowledged it, and now turned it to his maximal benefit.

Remarkably Rutte has not, just as Obama’s Democratic Party after 8 years of his administration, received the fair credits of his policies. Rutte has not only dragged the country out of the economic misery it was facing at the beginning of his term, he offered a big part of his party’s popularity by taking the responsibility when the country most asked for it, even working together with a party that is standing far away from his own ideology. Next to this, Rutte has understood the importance of working together globally, identified in the EU, personified by his partial ignorance towards the Ukraine-referendum (where he turned down the call of the majority of the country for a “no”, and therefore stabilized the international affairs towards the EU). People may blame Rutte for the political path he has been following, but one might be happy that he, as one of the only in this country, understands that the threats Western societies are facing nowadays – Trump, populism, ISIS, Russia – are only to be defeated by working together, and, if necessary, by standing up against it.

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Bjarn Eck

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