Rutte’s VVD edges out Samsom’s Labour as both gain in Dutch election

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte looked more likely than not to continue as prime minister of the Netherlands Tuesday night after his party, the free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) won the largest share of the vote in the Dutch election, with 98% of the votes counted.

The VVD won 26.6% of the vote, entitling it to 41 seats in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, an increase of 10 seats over the 2010 election.

It was followed very closely by the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), with 24.8%, which entitles it to 39 seats, a nine-seat increase from 2010 under the incredibly strong performance of Labour leader Diederik Samsom, a former Greenpeace activist who took over the party’s leadership only in March 2012 and spent much of the past year trailing the more staunchly leftist Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) of Emile Roemer.

All things being equal, Rutte and Samsom are the clear winners of the election.  Rutte will now be able to attempt to form a government with a credible mandate for bringing the Dutch budget within 3% of Dutch GDP — his prior government fell in April of this year when Geert Wilders, the leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), refused to support further budget cuts.

Samsom is nearly as much a winner as Rutte, though.  His polished performance in the various Dutch leaders debates (in contrast to Roemer’s often bumbling performances)  convinced Dutch voters that he possesses sufficient poise to be prime minister.  Samsom, a more leftist leader of the Labour Party as compared to his predecessor, former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, offered essentially the same anti-austerity option as Roemer, but without the anti-Europe sentiment of a Roemer-led government.  Even if he remains in the opposition, he can become the chief voice against Rutte’s budget cuts during the next government and work to build upon his party’s gains from today’s election.

The Socialists finished far behind with 9.7% and 15 seats — unchanged from 2010, but a huge disappointment after polls showed a gain of potentially 35 seats just a few weeks ago.

The Socialists, in fact, finished just behind Wilders’s anti-immigration, anti-Europe PVV — with 10.1% and also just 15 seats, it’s a nine-seat drop from the 2010 election, a huge disappointment for Wilders and a success for those who favor an approach of integrating Muslims into Dutch culture rather than excluding them.  Essentially, voters seemed to blame Wilders for dragging them back to the polls just two years after the last election — and furthermore, the essentially pro-European Dutch did not seem to take to Wilders’s contrived and virulent campaign to bring the Dutch guilder back and pull the Netherlands out of the eurozone.  Wilders never found the same resonance over Europe in 2012 that he obvious found over Muslim immigration in 2010.

Rutte’s coalition partners, the once-dominant but now-atrophied Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) won just 8.5% and 13 seats, a drop of eight seats from 2010.  The progressive / centrist Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) won 7.9% and 12 seats.

Also returning to the Tweede Kamer were the center-left, Christian Democratic ChristenUnie (CU, Christian Union) with 3.1% and five seats, the ecologist GroenLinks (GL, GreenLeft) with 2.3% and three seats, the Calvinist, ‘testimonial’ Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP, the Reformed Political Party) with 2.1% and three seats, and finally, both of the newly-formed Labour spinoff 50PLUS and the animal welfare advocate Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD, Party for the Animals), each with 1.9% and two seats.

As soon as tomorrow, cabinet formation talks are expected to begin — and for the first time, the Dutch parliament will take the lead in exploring potential coalitions (instead of the Dutch monarch, Queen Beatrix).  Those talks typically take up to three months, but can take longer — the 2010 government was formed after four months of negotiations.

Given the result, it looks like three coalitions are possible: Continue reading Rutte’s VVD edges out Samsom’s Labour as both gain in Dutch election

Dutch election today; UPDATE: VVD, Labour tied for first place

UPDATE (6 pm ET): Results are coming in slowly (see here for real-time results).  Some exit polls are now showing the VVD could win 44 seats.  If so, I think it’s possible for the VVD to form a majority government without Labour — they’d need the CDA, Democrats 66 and several of the smaller parties, including the Greens.  But it’s *just* barely doable.  If Rutte could pull it off, it would be quite an accomplishment, and it would give the Netherlands a much more stable government than it’s had since 2010, although maybe not an ironclad government through 2016.  Samsom would remain in the opposition, and could build on his very strong performance in advance of the next election.

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UPDATE (3:30 pm ET): The first exit poll is out, showing the free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) and the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party) essentially tied for first place.  The Ipsos projection has the VVD of prime minister Mark Rutte with 41 seats and the Labour Party of Diederik Samsom with 40 seats.

The Soalistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) wins 15 (as many as they won in 2010), but a sharp fall from polls that showed the Socialists leading the election less than a month ago.  Geert Wilders’s anti-immigration, anti-Europe party, the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), will fall from 24 seats to just 13, and the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), fall from 21 to 13 seats.

If the projection holds, I think Labour is likely headed into government, one way or another.  With the collapse in support for the Socialists, it seems more likely than not that Samsom and Rutte will be forced to negotiate a so-called ‘purple’ coalition together, although an anti-austerity coalition could not be ruled out — the result now is too close, however, to know if Labour will win more seats, thereby making Samsom the likelier candidate to become the next Dutch prime minister.

It will have been an incredibly disappointing night for Wilders — who many consider a bit of a demagogue.  His problems are three-fold: (i) voters blame the PVV for early elections (with a campaign that interrupted holiday season!), (ii) Wilders’s attempt to turn his populist formula from anti-Islam to anti-Europe was clunky and obvious and insincere, and (iii) Dutch voters just aren’t anti-Europe to the degree Wilders was arguing — Netherlands was a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Commission, after all!

It’s nearly as bad a night for Emile Roemer, who dropped like a stone after Samsom impressed voters in the debates and Roemer seemed to flail.  Voters realized that Samsom, a relatively leftist leader of the Labour Party, was close enough on the substance of budget austerity to Roemer, but with the poise of a potential prime minister and sufficiently pro-Europe not to scare Berlin and Brussels.  Samsom seemed to offer the same message but in a package that wouldn’t embarrass the Netherlands on the international stage.

It’s also a good night for stability — it’s the first time in nearly a decade that two parties would hold over 40 seats each in the Tweede Kamer.  It looks like, even in the closing days of the campaign, voters moved tactically to the VVD and to Labour, and away from the smaller parties — that bodes well for stability over the next four years, if Rutte and Samsom or Samsom and others can agree a credible coalition program.

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Dutch voters are at the polls today to select the 150 members (by proportional representation) to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament. 

Follow all of Suffragio‘s coverage leading up to the election here.


Who is Mohamed al-Magariaf?

Today’s U.S. — and world — media are likely to be focused on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the resulting deaths of U.S. diplomatic personnel there, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens

That’s crazy, given that today has already seen the jarring attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, an attempted assassination on the new Somali president, and amid increasingly public tensions between the United States and Israel over Iran’s nuclear program.  And that’s just in the Middle East — today is also a big day for Europe, with the Dutch elections and the German constitutional court’s decision to uphold the European Stability Mechanism.

In the meanwhile, it’s worth noting a little more about Libya’s new interim sort-of leader, Mohamed al-Magariaf, who in a press conference earlier today strongly condemned the hardline Salafist attacks on the U.S. consulate and apologized for the killing of Stevens and other U.S. personnel (in contrast to Egyptian president’s Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi, who has yet to condemn the Cairo embassy incident):

“On behalf of the presidency of GC, government and the Libyan people we offer deep condolences to the American government, people and the families of the ambassador and other victims,” the statement said.

The statement also said Libya “confirms the strong relations between the Libyan and American peoples which has been further cemented as a result of the US government’s support of the 17 February revolution.”

“While we strongly condemn any attempts of insult the person of the Prophet and our sanctities or tampering with our beliefs,” we reject the use of force and terrorizing innocent civilians, said Magariaf.

Al-Magariaf was elected the president of the General National Congress of Libya on August 12, making him Libya’s interim (for now) head of state.  As among the three Muslim countries that the United States has liberated in the past decade, for better or worse, al-Magariaf contrasts with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai in that he is less corrupt and more dependable.  Among the three countries (and Pakistan, too), he is by and far the friendliest and most helpful leader.

Al-Magariaf is from Benghazi, where the attack took place.  Benghazi is Libya’s second-largest city and the urban center in the eastern Cyrenaica region of Libya (in contrast to the coastal northwestern Tripolitania and southwestern Fezzan).  Benghazi is also, ironically, where the revolt against Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi began in 2010.

The GNC, an interim parliament called for the purpose of running Libya’s government until an elected Constituent Assembly can draft a new constitution for Libya, was appointed following Libya’s first free election in decades on July 7 — among the 200 members, 120 seats were reserved for political independents and 80 for political parties.

Among the 80 seats reserved for political parties, Mahmoud Jabril’s National Forces Alliance (تحالف القوى الوطنية) won 39, and it was seen as a victory for moderates — the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party (حزب العدالة والب) won just 17 seats.  Al-Magariaf himself represents the National Front Party (حزب الجبهة الوطنية‎), a successor to the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a group al-Magariaf formed in 1981 in opposition to Gaddafi, who ruled Libya from 1969 until just last year.

The National Front Party won just three seats, but al-Magariaf has a long record of opposition to Gaddafi and good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya.  Al-Magariaf is a political liberal more interested in rebuilding Libya’s government and economy than promoting Islamic rule, but is viewed with less suspicion than Jibril, who served in Gadaffi’s administration from 2007 to 2011 as the head of Libya’s National Economic Development Board in an effort to revitalize and privatize the Libyan economy.  Although al-Magariaf served as Libya’s ambassador to India until 1980, he defected in Morocco in that year, and remained in exile in the United States as the leader of the National Front until his return to Libya just last year.

Continue reading Who is Mohamed al-Magariaf?