The populists may be losing steam, writes Shadi Hamid, but the bigger, and rather unsexy, lesson is that one of the most effective bulwarks against ethno-nationalists holding power is having the right kind of electoral system. This piece originally appeared on The Atlantic.
To the relief of most everyone (except his supporters), the far-right politician Geert Wilders lost in the Dutch elections. Or at least he didn’t win, which, by the world’s increasingly low standards for celebration, was seemingly good enough. Wilders’s Party for Freedom, which had made anti-Muslim bigotry its defining message, won around 13 percent of the seats, making it the second-largest party in parliament. The populists may be losing steam, but the bigger, and rather unsexy, lesson is that one of the most effective bulwarks against ethno-nationalists holding power is having the right kind of electoral system.
The fears of Wilders “winning” were somewhat overblown. Even if his party had come in first, it would have been almost impossible to form a coalition government, considering the level of party fragmentation. In a 150-seat parliament, a simple majority of 76 is required to form a government. A first-place finish of, say, 35 seats would have still been more than 40 seats short. The mainstream parties would have almost certainly imposed a cordon sanitaire on the Party for Freedom. As the Dutch analyst Anno Bunnik wrote in frustration over the fixation on Wilders: “In a system in which several parties must form a coalition government such a size of the pie is useless if no one wants to work with you.” In other words, in a parliamentary system, it is possible to win without winning.
The Russians have effectively already declared war quite a long time ago in the information sphere. They’ve been trying to prove that they are a major cyber force — they want to create a wartime scenario so then they can sit down and agree some kind of truce with us.
It’s important to talk to [authoritarian leaders] with a straight face, to not succumb to their tricks, not give them more airspace than is absolutely necessary, but allow them to put their positions out there and refute them calmly one by one. I think that’s what grown-up democracies do.