It is 0245 here in the eastern United States and 0745 in the Netherlands. The polls there opened fifteen minutes ago and will remain open for the next nine hours as Dutch voters go to the polls. At stake are the 150 seats in the House of Representatives. The elections in the Netherlands have garnered much attention in the last week or so thanks to the diplomatic crisis between the Dutch and Turkish governments, however, there are other factors responsible for the recent surge of interest.
Many in the media, as well as a sizeable fraction of political observers are looking upon the Dutch parliamentary elections as a prime indicator of the direction European politics will be taking for the next five to seven years. The overall consensus is that these elections will serve as a litmus test for European populism, though the pundits and analysts who claim this seem to have forgotten the results of earlier litmus tests on the continent like Brexit, and the Italian referendum, as two examples. Populism has become a force to be reckoned with in Europe already, having challenged or defeated the embattled status quo in a number of EU nations already. The media, and European Union supporters especially seem to be locked in denial on this. Their positions and reactions to Europe’s political shift to the right is strikingly similar to those of Democrats and the media here in the United States during the 2016 Primaries. As then-candidate Donald Trump racked up victory after victory it became apparent he was ushering in a new populist era of American politics. The warning signs were everywhere and anyone who could read the political tea leaves objectively understood that something major was happening in US politics at the time. His opponents, the media, and the political establishment responded in large part by burying their heads in the sand and waiting patiently for the ‘Trump Phenomenon’ to burn itself out. To their surprise and horror it did not happen. On 9 November, 2016, they awoke to find their greatest nightmare had become reality: President-elect Donald Trump.
Geert Wilders is in many regards the Dutch Donald Trump. His Party for Freedom (PPV) is a right-wing movement expressing a message expressed on a foundation of nativism, and populism. Wilders argues that political elites in the Netherlands have lost touch what issues regular people consider to be of the most importance. The political and cosmopolitan elites promotion of internationalism undermines the nation’s identity. He points to the fallout from the European refugee crisis as proof of this. How Wilder and his party perform in the elections today could give a hint about how similar candidates will fare in the French and German elections later in the year.
Or it may not. The ongoing spat with Turkey could serve as a Dutch ‘October Surprise.’ It has the potential to siphon votes away from the incumbent parties and motivate more people to cast their ballots for the PPV and other anti-establishment parties. In nine hours or so we will see whether or not this is the case.