by Zheng Jianghua BRUSSELS (Xinhua)
-- The year 2017 has seen a sequence of elections across Europe,
in most of which populist parties were outgunned.
Still, the results fired a warning shot across the mainstream
parties’ bows, begging the question of whether they will stage a
comeback in the future elections.
For the time being, there is no easy answer to that question.
But what the outgoing year’s elections signaled hardly boded
well for Europe’s established parties.
Deemed as the opening chapter of Europe’s election year, the
Dutch legislative election in March was thrust into the
spotlight, amid concerns that the far-right populist Freedom
Party (PVV) headed by Geert Wilders would chalk up a victory.
In a country traditionally subscribing to the value of
diversity, the anti-immigration, eurosceptic PVV won 20 seats in
the 150-seat lower house of parliament, carving out a niche as
the second largest party, only after Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s
liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which
won 33 seats.
All other parties refused to govern with the PVV, and after a
record-breaking 209-day talks, VVD struck a coalition deal on
Oct. 9 with three other parties.
The new cabinet was officially sworn in on Oct 26.
A salient fact is that the coalition deal took a tougher line
on migration, which in no small measures bore the hallmarks of
the PVV, aiming to offset the appeal of the latter.
Joris Larik, senior researcher at The Hague Institute for
Global Justice, summed up the Dutch government’s plan on
migration as "those who can stay have to participate fast" and
"those who cannot stay have to leave fast."
In this context, though the PVV was kept from the new
government, it by no means lost ground.
In France, Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National
Front (FN), was outplayed in the May presidential run-off by
Emmanuel Macron, a political novice who led The Republic on the
Move Party (LREM).
If anything, the result -- 66.1 percent to 33.9 percent—was
attributed to a tacit understanding among those who were against
Marine Le Pen.
Be that as it may, it merits serious attention that Le Pen,
way ahead of other candidates, snapped at the heels of Macron in
the first round presidential election in April.
In the ensuing parliamentary elections in June, Le Pen’s FN
secured 8 seats, a leap from 2 in the last elections in 2012.
Luc Rouban, a researcher with the Center of Political
Research of Science Po (CEVIPOF) said the FN was an extremely
powerful opposition pole, whose electoral base had made
significant progress in the past three presidential elections.
"It is true that Le Pen was criticized within the party after
her defeat, but we must not forget that she had ten million
votes," he said.
In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party
racked up 12.6 percent of votes in the federal election in
September, becoming the third largest party in the Bundestag, or
the Federal Parliament, in only four years since its inception.
It was the first time a far-right party had entered the
Bundestag after the Second World War.
Like what happened in the Netherlands, Germany’s established
parties have no intention of teaming up with the AfD.
However, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s effort to form a "Jamaica
coalition" fizzled out in late November after a time-consuming
negotiation, as the mission to bridge the yawning gap between
the Liberals and the Greens proved to be a tall order.
The ensuing negotiation with the Social Democrats (SPD) was
anything but a low-hanging fruit, as SPD, led by former
president of European Parliament Martin Shultz, seemed to be fed
up with playing second fiddle in Merkel’s government.
It remains to be seen whether Merkel could cut a deal with
SPD, and if she could, with what strings attached.
widely believed that the AfD is on course to garner more votes
if Merkel fancies a new election.
In Austria, a new coalition government, consisting of the
conservative People’s Party (OVP) and the far-right Freedom
Party (FPO), was sworn in on Dec. 18, following protracted
negotiations after the Oct. 15 election.
OVP won the election with 31.5 percent of the poll, while FPO
ranked third scooping 26.0 percent of the ballot.
The incumbent Chancellor Christian Kern’s center-left Social
Democratic Party of Austria (SPO), secured 26.9 percent of the
votes, ranking second.
The new chancellor is 31-year-old Sebastian Kurtz, the head
of OVP and Europe’s youngest leader. FPO leader Heinz-Christian
Strache took up the post of vice-chancellor.
At a joint press conference presenting programs in their
upcoming five-year term on Oct. 16, Strache said the two parties
have very good chemistry and share common ground on about 75
percent of their governing program.
The two leaders saw eye to eye on tougher refugee policies,
including quicker processing of asylum application and faster
deportations of illegal migrants.
They also spoke out against the current refugee quotas in
Former Austrian vice-chancellor Erhard Busek told Xinhua that
the result of Austrian election showed a general political
movement to the right, even including the center-left or the
Busek’s comments also hold true regarding Europe’s other
Then a question ensues: if political parties of all stripes
have the "right" attributes, then what matters when it comes to
Observers have pointed out that traditional left-right divide
in western politics is on the wane, giving way to identity-based
politics, which places emphasis on race, community, and
If the trend continues — quite likely it does — the established
parties will once again feel the populists breathing down their
necks in Europe’s next poll year.
The Italian parliamentary election, slated for March 2018, is
just the starter.
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