Lessons from Dutch Elections

All eyes were on the Netherlands on March 15th, a country that blossoms with colourful fields of tulips in the months of April and May. India has the largest tulip garden in Asia, and the Dutch have the largest fields of tulips, which are harvested and sold across Europe. The Dutch imported a flower from Asia, started producing it on a large scale and now profit from it. Being open-minded is also rewarding, as the Dutch have proved.
In many countries, including India, our school textbooks have included the story of a Dutch boy, who discovered a leak in the dike and wondered how he could save the lives of his countrymen. The whole country could be flooded in no time, and therefore he had to act immediately. There was one thing he could do, stick his finger into the hole and stop the leak. He did it. So, the story goes, this little boy did his duty to save his country. Since then the Netherlands, a country of 17 million people, has built modern dams and canal systems to reclaim a bit of land from the sea to house a relatively large population. The Netherlands is smaller in area than Denmark, but has three times its population.
The Europeans were nervously watching the deciding quarterfinal match of the elections in Europe with the expectation that once again, metaphorically speaking, a little boy in Holland would put his finger in the dike and stop the negative spiral of the anti-EU populist wave from leaking into the European population and drowning the European Union project. The Dutch delivered it. The European leaders have now heaved a sigh of relief after Brexit. The Dutch verdict clearly states that they want to remain in the EU. After the Dutch quarter finals, the next French elections will be the semi-finals and the German election will be the finals, deciding the fate of the European Union.
Immigration, Integration and Islam, the three “I”s, have long decided the election results in many western countries. Every fifth person in Germany has an immigrant background. The Netherlands similarly, too, is a multicultural hub of many nationalities. Everyone was expecting that the recently held elections in the Netherlands would be a repetition of Brexit, until the results were declared the day after the elections.
It became increasingly clear to a world focused on the issue of populism that a new feather was added to the narrative of juxtapositioning the elites against the common man. The common man in the Netherlands was not just worried about Immigration, Integration of immigrants and Islam. If that was the case, Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-immigration and anti-EU party, the freedom party, PVV, would have won decisively with 40 seats as the opinion polls showed a few months ago, but he won a meager 20, adding just five seats to the previous tally of 15.
The international media had their eyes focused on whether the Dutch were going to follow the anti-globalization trend of populist leaders wanting to dismantle the EU. The Dutch eventually put a brake on the derailment of the EU project, and many parties in favor of the EU won a considerable number of seats, thereby making it clear to the world audience that the people of the Netherlands want to remain in the European Union and do not want to repeat the mistakes of the UK.
What is also interesting, of course, is that the Labor Party, PvdA, a party formed after the end of the Second World War and responsible for the creation of the welfare state, was decimated. From 38 seats in the last election, they were down to 9, which is an unprecedented loss of 29 seats. If my mathematics is right, then it is a tremendous loss. Why did the Labor Party, PvdA, lose so disastrously?
This is the issue that concerns the Europeans as well, but is of less concern to the international media. If we want to understand the reality on the ground, it is important to understand that the Dutch sister party to the Social Democrats across Europe, PvdA, the Labour Party, were coalition partners with Mark Rutte’s party, VVD, The People´s Party of Freedom and Democracy. Both these parties were responsible for carrying out the so-called economic reforms that downsized the welfare benefits of the common man in the Netherlands. The Dutch had a health care system, which resembled the Danish, with free, tax-financed medical assistance, but now because of the fundamental reforms, the universal health care is being replaced with a system according to which one has to pay in the initial stages based on a Dutch concept characterized as “participatiesamenleving”. The other change is the raising of the age of retirement and similar economic reforms that have affected the working class.
TheTurkish-Dutch diplomatic crisis, which occurred just days before the election day, saved the ruling party leader Mark Rutte from a further electoral loss like that of the Labor Party. Some scholars on Dutch history here had predicted an even greater loss for Rutte´s ruling Liberal Party than just the 8 seats` reduction from 41 to the present 33 seats, making it still the largest party. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey, reacted angrily at Mark Rutte for rejecting the entry of the Turkish delegation which wanted to address a political rally comprising the Turkish minority. 400,000 Turks live in the Netherlands alone and 5 million Turks domicile in Germany.
President Erdogan had planned to persuade these Turkish voters to vote in favor of his extension of presidential powers. Escalating the diplomatic row increases his chances to attain sweeping powers, bringing Turkey close to a dictatorship. The diplomatic conflict has further escalated today as the President of Turkey, having previously named the Dutch “Nazis” and “Fascists”, now threatens to tear apart the migrant deal with the European Union.
The reaction of the Turkish government is finally hammering the point home in the European Union that they have to stand together to solve international issues and there are no simple nationalistic solutions to a global crisis. United they stand and divided they will face even more trouble.
The Dutch have voted, and voted emphatically, to retain the EU institutions, and to maintain the all-encompassing welfare state that takes care of the poor and marginalized as well. If there was a populist sentiment in the Netherlands, it was about caring for those who are downtrodden and left out.
These are the lessons to be drawn from the recent election, and the Dutch people have given the crystal clear message that one can be Dutch and European at the same time, and they are not seeking isolationism.

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