1. First of all, they determine who will represent citizens in the provincial legislatures and the water authorities. That in itself is important. But what makes them relevant for national politics is that the provincial councils will also elect the Dutch Senate (in May).
2. The Senate plays an important legislative role, and the government coalition needs a majority in the Senate to pass laws. This is not the case now and the seat share of the government parties will likely further decrease.
3. One core reason is that an agrarian populist party, the Farmer-Citizen-Movement (BBB), has become very popular of late. It could even finish as the largest party. This party mobilizes discontented voters who feel left behind – in particular those in rural areas.
4. The growth of this party is only the next stage in a process that started 2 decades ago: the growth of the political space to the right of the center-right VVD of prime minister Mark Rutte. Polls indicate that about 1 in 3 voters will vote for a party to the right of the VVD.
5. Big shifts are taking place here. The extreme right FVD, which was the most successful party in the previous provincial elections, will implode as the result of scandals and radicalization of its leader, Thierry Baudet. Former FVD-voters will spread over other parties.
6. The Dutch party landscape consists of 3 blocs of parties: left-wing, center-right & radical-right parties. The BBB operates as a bridge between the latter two. The big question is this: how will it develop in the future? Will it become a full-blown radical-right party or not?
7. Two other parties in the radical-right bloc will also gain votes: Geert Wilders’ PVV and JA21, an FVD-split-off. This latter party presents itself as a less polarizing right-wing alternative to the VVD. Yet its rhetoric on immigration is almost just as radical as the PVV's.
8. This growth of right-wing parties doesn’t only go at the expense of FVD. Also the mainstream Christian-democratic CDA is expected to lose many seats. This poses a problem for the government coalition (of which CDA is part). The main question is how big the losses will be.
9. There is also an interesting development going on within the left-wing bloc. The social-democrats and greens will form a single group within the Senate. This is part of an ever closer embrace between the two. Yet it remains to be seen how electorally successful it will be.
10. The atmosphere within the government coalition will not have improved. The campaign is pretty harsh and polarizing. Moreover, the success of BBB/JA21 will pull VVD and CDA further to the right, and D66 (the social liberals, also in the coalition) will be pulled to the left. At the same time, none of the government parties will benefit from early national elections, so they will do their best to decrease tensions. Yet two of the core issues that the government must make decisions on – asylum and nitrogen – are exactly the issues that divide them.
11. In particular Rutte will face a difficult task. His campaign was focused on presenting the VVD as the only real option for right-wing voters by portraying both the left and the radical right as radical, ignoring the BBB, and presenting himself as an international statesman. By (again) flirting with the radical right in other countries (he made a trip to Rome to strike a deal on migration with the Italian far-right prime minister Giorgia Meloni) he hopes to attract voters from the far right. But how happy is D66 with this strategy?
12. Finally, whatever the exact outcome today, these elections again show that new parties can relatively easily and rapidly gain electoral clout and become successful. Both in terms of vote/seat shares and when it comes to impact on policy-making. By finding an electoral niche, politicians can exert a lot of influence. The BBB profited from the political situation (low levels of trust, nitrogen crisis). But its leader also presents herself very skillfully as a reliable representative of ordinary citziens and peasants.
13. They also show that right-wing populists increasingly mobilize on issues related to the environment. And they might even herald the return of the success of the agrarian populist party family in Western-Europe.
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation