Votes are now being counted in the Netherlands for the 150-seat House of Representatives, and for the prime minister — who will lead a coalition of 76 or more MPs. A fresh coalition will replace the previous two-party teaming of the liberal-conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which had 41 seats, and the Labour Party, which had 38. That simple and successful arrangement is finished. Prime minister Mark Rutte, however, is not.

Labour has been the biggest loser, down to possibly as few as nine seats. Rutte’s VVD is down to about 32, but it retains by far the largest number. The Socialist Party lost one seat, from 15 down to 14. (These numbers are based on Ipsos exit polling, which has an error margin of about 2% and very early official tallies.)

From 11 parties in the outgoing parliament, there appear to be 13 in the new. Newcomers are the right-wing Forum for Democracy (two seats) and the left wing pro-multiculturalism Denk (one seat). None has been ousted. Voter turnout was high. Democracy is alive and well in the Netherlands.

The biggest success story is the Greens, led by the charismatic Jesse Klaver, who increased their seats from four to an impressive 15. Other winners are centrist Democrats 66, up from 12 to 17, and the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal, from 13 up to 21.

[Can the far-right tide marching through Europe be stopped?]

The incumbent PM Rutte’s 32 members is more than enough for him to form and lead a coalition with three or more other parties. Which ones? Far too early to tell.

Most significantly for Europe, Geert Wilders’ hard right, anti-immigration Party for Freedom (PVV) is out of the running. Wilders appears to have increased his representation, from 15 to perhaps 19, but not enough for him to claim validation from this poll for his extremist positions on Islam, border control and leaving the European Union.

Attention in Europe now turns to France, where recent developments have also been quite dramatic. As Crikey reported in January, the early shoe-in as new president of the Fifth Republic was conservative candidate for Les Republicains Francois Fillon. His quest for victory in the April/May elections suffered a serious setback, however, when damning evidence emerged that he had enriched himself and his family corruptly. The amounts involved make this one of the more significant financial rip-offs in a scandal-plagued political system.

To the surprise of many, Fillon brushed all allegations aside as partisan attacks, describing them as an “institutional coup d’etat”.

Even more surprisingly, his party stuck by him. Well, most colleagues did for a while. Many high-profile supporters have since jumped ship, including his likely future foreign affairs minister Bruno Le Maire.

Fillon asserted defiantly that he would only step side if he were formal charged. That day, however, est arrive Tuesday this week when magistrates effectively laid charges for misuse of public funds and embezzlement.

The deadline for submitting official presidential candidature is tomorrow, Friday, March 17, which does not allow Les Republicains to chase up the 500 signatures needed for an alternative. Hence Fillon’s resistance may have saved his place on the ballot paper, but it has almost certainly destroyed any chance of his party — which has held the presidency for 17 of the last 22 years — getting through the first round of voting.

[Right-wing France will beat the crepe out of leftists come polling day, unless …]

The likelihood Crikey mentioned last month of coalitions and alliances has indeed eventuated, with two high-profile early presidential starters withdrawing and backing others.

Francois Bayrou of the centrist Democratic Movement has run for president three times, coming third in 2007. He has retired and is backing newcomer Emmanuel Macron. Greens candidate Yannick Jadot has withdrawn in a deal with the Socialist Benoit Hamon, which is probably too little too late. The gap between Hamon and the leading three contenders appears just too great.

  • At least eight starters will qualify for the first round ballot on 23 April. In order of currently perceived popularity these are:

    Emmanuel Macron of the independent centrist En Marche!
  • Marine Le Pen of the far right le Front National;
  • Francois Fillon of the Republican Party;
  • Benoit Hamon of the Socialist Party;
  • Jean-Luc Melenchon of Unsubmissive France;
  • Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of the far right France Arise;
  • Nathalie Arthaud of Workers’ Struggle; and
  • Philippe Poutou of the New Anticapitalist Party.

Another four have claimed to be close to having the signatures. We will know on Friday.

Considerable media scrutiny is now on Macron, who insists he is “neither of the left or the right” but “for France”.

The 39-year-old former banker and ex-minister for the economy in the Hollande government is a colourful contender. Although he has never stood for election before, he has inspired an extensive national campaign under the banner En Marche! — which translates as “Onwards!” or “Forward!”. His wife is 24 years older, so he has stitched up the senior female vote, but from attendance at his community meetings, he seems to appeal to voters of all ages, occupations and regions.

Intriguingly, France with its second round vote in May will probably know who will be its next president and ministers before Holland knows for sure the composition of its next government. Wrangling to form a coalition to govern the Dutch may take up to three months. So we shall wacht en zien.

Peter Fray

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