A new political force representing farmers and rural voters has emerged as the biggest winner in the Dutch provincial elections, shaking up the balance of power in the upper house of parliament.
The Farmer-citizen movement (BBB), founded in 2019 amid widespread protests against government plans to reduce nitrogen emissions by cutting livestock numbers, won 15 seats out of 75 in the Senate with nearly 20% of the vote.
The result was a stunning upset for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s four-party coalition, which lost eight seats and its majority in the Senate. The coalition will now have to seek support from other parties to pass legislation.
The BBB’s leader, Caroline van der Plas, a former journalist and farmer’s wife, said her party represented “normal citizens” who felt ignored by mainstream politics.
“We are all normal people and all the people who voted for us are normal citizens,” she said in a victory speech. “Normally, if people no longer trust the government, they stay home. Today they showed they don’t want to stay at home — they want their voices to be heard.”
The BBB’s platform includes defending farmers’ interests, preserving traditional Dutch values and culture, opposing further European integration and immigration, and banning face-covering garments such as burkas.
The party also appeals to voters who are dissatisfied with Rutte’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his austerity policies.
The BBB’s success reflects a deep-rooted resentment of mainstream politics in the Netherlands that spreads far beyond its farming power base. The party won the most votes in every province except Utrecht.
Political analysts said the BBB was a new form of “folksy nationalism” that tapped into a sense of identity and belonging among rural voters.
The other big winner of the election was a left-wing alliance of Labor and Green parties, which also won 15 seats in the Senate. The alliance campaigned on social justice and environmental issues.
The biggest loser was the far-right populist Forum for Democracy party, which collapsed from 12 seats to just one. The party had been plagued by internal divisions and scandals over its extremist views.
The provincial elections are seen as an important indicator of public opinion ahead of national elections due next year. Rutte has been in power since 2010 and is Europe’s longest-serving leader.