For the first time since 2010, the profide smile of the liberal leader Mark Rutte is absent from the endless succession of electoral posters that are seen these days in the Netherlands, where on Wednesday 25 parties will compete for the favor of voters.
His resignation, in July, due to irreconcilable differences with the partners in his fourth coalition government over asylum policy, marks the beginning of a new political time in the country dominated by new faces and old concerns for which citizens demand answers, in particular the cost of living, rather than due to specific ideological struggles or the desire to kick the traditional parties, as happened in the provincial and Senate elections in March, when the BBB (Citizen Peasant Movement) became the most voted force.
The polls predict a record fragmentation of Parliament, with up to 18 parties represented, of which three are fighting within a very short distance to become the most voted force. For the first time in history, however, none would obtain more than 30 of the 150 seats in the chamber, which predicts government formation negotiations perhaps longer than the last ones, which lasted almost a year.
At the top of the polls is the acting Minister of Justice, the liberal Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius, which represents “an anomaly”, according to Denny van der Vlist, a researcher at the Institute of Political Science at Leiden University. Not because she is the daughter of Turkish political refugees and has dual nationality, but because "historically when a prime minister has resigned, his party tends to crash in the following elections and nothing indicates that this will be the case with the VVD." Like most candidates, she proposes toughening immigration policy and, thanks to a clever public relations campaign, she has successfully distanced herself from the problematic legacy of the last Rutte governments. Yesilgöz has a serious chance of becoming the first woman to lead a government in the Netherlands.
The surprise of the campaign – and perhaps of these elections – is called Pieter Omtzigt, and he is the leader of a new party created this summer that at times has surpassed the liberal candidate in voting intention. “It may be the new party that breaks into Parliament with the greatest force, we would have to go back to Pim Fortuyn [murdered in 2002] to find something similar,” says Van der Vlist. A former deputy of the CDA, the Christian Democratic party, Omtzigt earned the respect of public opinion in his country with his denunciation of the false accusations against families – most of them immigrants – of collecting social assistance fraudulently, the scandal that brought down the previous Rutte team. She presents herself as a centrist candidate, but his program leans to the right.
Slightly behind in the polls appears Frans Timmermans, the candidate of the Spanish experiment of the social democratic party PvdA and the greens, GroenLinks, who have been inspired by the experience of the PSOE and Sumar to try to strengthen the options of the progressive forces. Given the fragmentation of the Dutch parliamentary arc, they have gone one step further and present themselves with a single list. The polls are not in his favor. But in the Netherlands, last-minute changes in voting intentions are common and Timmermans has been focusing for days on the possibility of the extreme right coming to power, as the PSOE and Sumar did to stop the PP and Vox. Neither Yesilgöz nor Omtzigt rule out governing with Geert Wilders (PVV, Party for Freedom). “This is a remarkable change compared to the past,” highlights Van der Vlist.
“In July the Spaniards voted en masse against the extreme right and in favor of a progressive Spain, go ahead, President Sánchez!”, the former European commissioner and former minister tweeted on Thursday in the midst of Wilders' electoral offensive, who has not missed the gauntlet thrown by his rivals and has reoriented his speech to, without giving up his xenophobic approaches and anti-Islam proclamations, focus on less ideological issues and show himself open to reaching agreements.
The attempts of the BBB, the party that has capitalized on the unrest in the countryside, to take the public debate to its territory have failed and the polls predict a modest result. The problems they denounce are still there, but they have not managed to turn them into campaign issues. This year the key word is bestaanszekerheid. It would literally be translated as life security, but it is rather an umbrella concept under which parties group their responses to problems such as access to housing, inflation and energy. Although it is a term used more by politicians than by ordinary citizens, concern about the rising cost of living dominates public conversation. Within the plurality of responses from the parties, this time the majority tends towards the center.