The hand-counting of ballot papers has finished and the result is confirmed
Now lengthy and complex negotiations to form a coalition begin in earnest
Conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s comfortable victory over far-right firebrand Geert Wilders was officially confirmed by the Dutch Electoral Council on Tuesday.
As had been expected since preliminary results were announced Wednesday, Rutte’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, the VVD, won 33 seats in the national parliament out of a total of 150.
The reason for the delay between the preliminary results announced on election night and the official one is that the Dutch government decided to hand count all ballots rather than rely on software – to prevent hackers influencing the results.
Lengthy negotiations ahead
Wilders’ Freedom Party, the PVV, won 20 seats, one more than the mainstream Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Democrats 66 (D66) parties.
Wilders had run on an anti-Muslim platform, calling for Islamic schools to be closed and the Quran and burqa to be banned.
The election was widely seen as a test of populist right-wing sentiment in Europe ahead of the French presidential vote in April and the German national election in September.
The result was a blow for Wilders who – despite winning a handful more seats than in the last election in 2012 – came a distant second to Rutte.
A total of 28 parties took part in the election – with 13 winning at least one seat.
Support for the PVDA (Labor) party, which had previously been in government with Rutte’s VVD, plunged from 38 seats to nine.
In order to govern, Rutte now needs to bring together enough smaller parties to form a majority – 76 seats in the 150-member chamber.
At least four parties are likely to be needed to pull together a majority according to Andre Krouwel, a political scientist at the Free University Amsterdam and owner of election site Kieskompas.
If that comes to pass, it will be the largest multi-party alliance in Holland since the 1970s.
After the last election in 2012, Rutte took seven weeks to form a coalition with the PVDA – and this time the process could take far longer, Krouwel told CNN, basing his prediction on analysis of past elections.
“Negotiations are going to take months, for sure,” he said, predicting “multiple rounds of negotiations.”
While informal discussions have already begun, Tuesday’s announcement of the official results is the formal start of this process.
Wilders’ influence remains
Likely partners for Rutte in a coalition are the CDA and D66 – but they will still need another five seats if they team up.
“All combinations are possible,” said Krouwel. However, he thinks the most likely fourth partner will be the Christian Union – a moderate right-wing party that was in government from 2006-2010 – even though this would only give the coalition a one-seat majority.
While it is highly unlikely that the Freedom Party will have any role in the coalition, due to the animosity between one-time VVD party colleagues Rutte and Wilders, Krouwel predicted that Wilders’ policies “will be dominant” as they dominated the election campaign.
“This guy has only caused trouble. He makes things very difficult,” said Krouwel.
The turnout for the election was 81.9%, which the Electoral Council said was the highest since the 1986 elections.
CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorhouse also contributed to this report.