Category Archives: Netherlands

Netherlands 2012

Legislative elections were held in the Netherlands on September 12, 2012. All 150 seats of the lower house of Dutch Parliament, the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives/Second Chamber) were up for reelection. I didn’t write a preview for this election, but if you want some quick stuff about Dutch politics since 1918, I would think that my preview post for the 2010 elections is still worth something.

The members of the Dutch lower house are elected by proportional representation, with an effective real threshold of 0.67% of the votes (roughly 50,000 votes) required for representation. After the initial seats are allocated, the remainder seats are allocated using the d’Hondt method of largest averages. This system favours slightly the larger parties, hence list combinations (lijstencombinatie) are formed by the combination of several party lists where they form a single slate which compete for the remaining seats. Afterwards, the seats are allocated to the parties within the list combination using the largest remainder method.

In the Netherlands, voters vote for a candidate on a party list rather than the list as a whole. However, oftentimes, a vast majority of voters cast their vote for the party’s lijsttrekker (top candidate) even though they may vote for any candidate lower on the party list. Preferential votes are only taken into account once the seats have been allocated, and a candidate can be elected ahead of candidates placed higher on the party list if he/she received one quarter of the threshold (0.1675% of total valid votes) on preference votes.

Government formation in the Netherlands takes a long time, but it does not take long for some cabinets to fall. This election is the fourth early election in a row – all elections since 2002 have been held before the government came to its natural end. Following the 2010 elections, the liberal VVD led by Mark Rutte formed a cabinet with the participation of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the external support of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV). Geert Wilders’ PVV propped up Rutte’s cabinet in exchange from stricter immigration policy, similar to what happened in Denmark between 2001 and 2011 when the far-right offered external support to a liberal-conservative coalition government.

Wilders decided to pull the plug on the government in April 2012, unwilling to accept a new round of austerity policies aimed at reducing the Dutch deficit from about 4% of GDP to the EU deficit limit of 3%. Wilders claimed that he was opposed to new budget cuts which would have a negative impact on social programs, notably old age security.

The Netherlands has one of the lowest electoral thresholds in the world. This has made the formation of strong, stable governments increasingly difficult, and has allowed for the proliferation of all types of political parties. Given that any party which can manage about three-quarters of a percentage can realistically hope to win representation in the lower house, there is little which keeps dissidents or minority factions within an existing political party from creating their own political party.

The Dutch electorate used to be one of the more predictable electorates in western Europe until the 1960s, but since then it has turned into one of the most unpredictable and unstable electorates in Europe. Until the 1960s, the Netherlands was a very polarized – or rather pillarized - society built up along four pillars – the Catholic, the Protestant, the “socialist” and the neutral or “liberal” pillars. Each pillar had its own church (or lack thereof), its own newspapers, its own schools, its own unions, its own social activities and, of course, its own political party(ies). The Catholic Party, successively known as the AB, RKSP and KVP, received nearly 80-90% of the votes in the heavily Catholic provinces of Limburg and North Brabant. Protestants split their votes between the ARP (which represented the Reformed Churches), the CHU (which represented the Dutch Reformed Church) and the so-called testimonial parties which represented small, traditionalist, Orthodox (Calvinist) churches. The SDAP, and after the war the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Communists (CPN) represented the socialist pillar. The pillarized society was completed by liberal parties, most significantly the liberal-conservative VVD in the post-war era.

Pillarization declined in the 1960s, victim of the secularization common to all Western European societies. Between 1918 and 1963, the three major confessional parties (KVP, ARP, CHU) polled roughly 50% of the votes altogether (and were the mainstays of every government), but by the 1972 election these three parties only accounted for 31% of the votes. In 1977, to confront their decline, the Catholic and Protestant parties (ARP and CHU) came together to form the non-denominational Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). In these years, Dutch politics were also marked by the growth of new political actors, representing emerging ideologies. There was the left-liberal and reformist Democrats 66 (D66), the left-wing Christian PPR, the eco-socialist and pacifist PSP, a destalinized CPN and smaller movements on the far-right and the far-left (including a small Maoist-oriented Socialist Party, SP).

Since then, the tendency has been one of electoral instability. To be fair, a lot of this electoral instability takes place within the ideological blocs (left and right) rather than between the larger ideological blocs, but since the turn of the century, the list of parties which have had their rise and fall is long. Most will remember the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) in 2002-2003, which won 17% in 2002 on the heels of Fortuyn’s assassination, but collapsed to 5.7% in 2003. Most recently, in 2010, the CDA collapsed to fourth place with 15.5% of the vote, its worst result in its history, while Geert Wilders’ far-right PVV surged to 15.5% and 24 seats. In 2006, the Socialist Party (SP) placed a very strong third with 16.6% and 25 seats but in 2010 it fell back to only 15 seats and 9.8%. D66, finally, has a famously fluid electorate, which has allowed the party to win as much as 15.5% (1994) and as little as 2% (2006).

Opinion polls in the Netherlands since January 2012 (source: Peil.nl)

This election was another textbook example of the Dutch electorate’s instability. Going into the election, the VVD was running neck-and-neck with the SP, with the PvdA trailing quite badly. This was attributed to the PvdA’s lackluster performance in opposition since 2010 and the popularity of SP leader Emile Roemer. The SP ran a markedly left-wing anti-austerity and Eurosceptic platform, it opposed raising the retirement age, opposed the Rutte cabinet’s stringent austerity measures and said that it would net feel obliged to abide by the EU’s 3% deficit limit. If you are interested about each party’s platform, the Votematch test in English matches you up with a party and allows you to explore party positions on major issues.

However, just as everybody was preparing for an election which would have placed the SP on nearly equal footing with the VVD, the SP started collapsing rapidly as the PvdA surged back. The last-minute reversal was attributed to a very strong debate performance from the PvdA’s new leader, Diederik Samsom, and negative press about the SP (an independent economic analysis agency projected major job loses based on the SP’s platform).

Turnout was 74.3%, down from 75.4% in 2010. The results were:

VVD 26.58% (+6.09%) winning 41 seats (+10)
PvdA 24.81% (+5.17%) winning 38 seats (+8)
PVV 10.11% (-5.34%) winning 15 seats (-9)
SP 9.66% (-0.16%) winning 15 seats (nc)
CDA 8.52% (-5.09%) winning 13 seats (-8)
D66 8.00% (+1.05%) winning 12 seats (+2)
CU 3.13% (-0.11%) winning 5 seats (nc)
GL 2.34% (-4.33%) winning 4 seats (-6)
SGP 2.1% (+0.36%) winning 3 seats (+1)
PvdD 1.93% (+0.63%) winning 2 seats (nc)
50PLUS 1.88% (+1.88%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Others 0.95% (+0.24%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Google Politics (again) has the best map for visualizing results at the municipal level.

The election ended as a very closely fought contest between the liberal VVD and the PvdA, with both parties achieving very high levels of support. The VVD itself, with 26.6% of the vote and 41 seats, won its best result in its history, while the PvdA has won its best result since the 2003 election (27.3%). This particularly heavy polarization around the two major parties is rather impressive when you consider that the PvdA surged into contention only in the final stretch of the campaign.

Winners and Losers

Mark Rutte and the VVD are the clear winners of the election. As noted, 26.6% and 41 seats is the best result ever won by the VVD or in fact, any liberal party in the Netherlands since the introduction of proportional representation in 1918. Rutte’s government is probably not phenomenally popular, but Mark Rutte is a fairly popular leader who is rather well liked by the wider electorate. He apparently gives off a “fresh” and straight-talking vibe, which is a contrast with his CDA predecessor Jan-Peter Balkenende. Even if his government took some unpopular decisions and was embroiled in some controversies, Rutte was able to successfully deflect almost all major controversies which could have hurt him.

While no trend is set in stone in Dutch politics, the VVD has emerged as the main right-wing party, taking the spot which the CDA had usually occupied. This shift has paralleled a significant ideological shift in the VVD, part of which has likely been the result of the rise of the far-right in Dutch politics. The VVD has adopted increasingly conservative positions on immigration, law and order or crime; while retaining its traditional economically liberal views on taxes, government spending and so forth. I guess comparisons could be made with Denmark, where the mainstream right-wing party – the Liberals – hold conservative views on immigration but liberal views on economic policy. However, the comparisons stop there; the Danish Liberals have usually been the major party on the right, and its original base is predominantly rural rather than urban.

The VVD has been able to break out of its traditional urban upper middle-class electorate and dig deep into the ranks of former CDA voters. I don’t have data, unfortunately, on vote transfers in this election, but I would logically suspect that the VVD’s gains this year came in large part on the back of the CDA’s loses. Indeed, the areas where the VVD gained the most since 2010 are primarily rural municipalities where the CDA had previously been dominant.

In the past, the VVD’s strongholds had been in the extensively urbanized Randstad region of Holland, where it polled best in wealthy upper middle-class suburban municipalities. This year, while the Randstad provided the VVD with its best results, the VVD won municipalities across the board, including in rural areas in the south and in the east where the CDA had found its last bastions of support in the 2010 election.

The VVD likely gained some voters from the PVV. Indeed, the municipality in which the VVD gained the most support from 2010 (Edam-Volendam) is also the municipality where the PVV lost the most support (but turnout also dropped considerably there…). Though I have not crunched the numbers, I don’t see a whole lot of evidence for the idea that there was a significant numbers of voters who switched from the PVV to the VVD. While 56% of PVV voters in the final poll by Maurice de Hond indicated a preference for Rutte over Samsom for Prime Minister, this is much less than with CDA voters (81% preferred Rutte over Samsom). There are grounds for some PVV voters to have switched to the VVD in this election. Some right-wing voters who had backed Wilders in 2010 primarily because of immigration could have backed Rutte’s VVD this year without too much unease, considering how far to the right Rutte (pushed by the PVV) had pushed Dutch immigration policy since 2010. However, it is hard to see voters who backed the PVV in 2010 as a populist/protest option switch allegiances in large number to the VVD.

The PvdA clearly had a very successful election, especially if you consider how badly the campaign had started for them. A month ago, if somebody had said that the PvdA would end up with 38 seats and come within a hair of first place, most would have laughed them off. Since the 2010 election, already an underwhelming result for the party, the PvdA had performed relatively poorly in the opposition and bled many supporters to the SP. Until the last week of August, the PvdA was projected to win less than 20 seats and finish a distant third behind the VVD and the SP. Polls showed that a significant share of voters who had backed the PvdA in the 2010 election were planning to vote for the SP, but Diederik Samsom’s very strong performance in a debate really turned the tide around and by the first few days of September, the PvdA was narrowly ahead of the SP and its support started soaring past even its 2010 results (30 seats) and was tied with (or narrowly trailing) the VVD in the final polls, both parties predicted to win more or less 35-37 seats each. It is quite remarkable that Samsom managed to convince voters who were on the verge of abandoning the PvdA for the SP throughout most of the campaign to come back home.

Samsom and the PvdA clearly had the momentum going into the election, and he benefited from the “curtain bonus” – that last-minute switch in voter allegiance which is commonplace in Dutch elections – at the expense of the SP. Voter allegiance is soft in the Netherlands, and there is much fluidity on the left. Such sudden reversals are not unknown (but they are quite impressive nonetheless) in the Netherlands, and it is no surprise that much of the SP’s additional support was (very) soft support from unhappy PvdA voters.

In the final week, the election really shifted into a polarized one-on-one battle between Rutte (VVD) and Samsom (PvdA). The PvdA (and the VVD)’s apparent “curtain bonus” is likely the result of strategic voting on both the left and the right. On the left, many voters may have liked Roemer and the SP and considered him, but ultimately there certainly was heavy strategic voting for the PvdA in the hope that Samsom would place first, making him the frontrunner to become Prime Minister. After all, around 75% of SP voters indicated their preference for Samsom over Rutte as PM in Maurice de Hond’s last poll.

After a paltry debate performance by Roemer and a very strong performance by Samsom, many left-wingers likely judged Samsom to be more prime-ministerial and on top of the issues than Roemer. After all, the SP’s “soft” gains came from 2010 PvdA voters who were disappointed with the way the party, led by Job Cohen, had performed in opposition. After Samsom proved himself, many of them naturally flowed back.

With the “prime ministerial” nature (rather than purely legislative) of the election in the final week and the extent of strategic voting on both sides, I can’t help but draw comparisons to the 1977 election which had seen a similarly polarized “prime ministerial” contest between the PvdA’s Joop den Uyl and the CDA’s Dries van Agt. In 1977, the PvdA ran under the slogan “Vote for Prime Minister” and the result was a consolidation of left-wing votes behind Joop den Uyl’s party, at the expense of smaller left-wing parties like the CPN, PPR or PSP. Of course, there was no similar consolidation of the right-of-centre vote in 1977.

The PVV, after a very successful election in 2010, tumbled down the stairs in 2012 (though 10% is still a fairly significant base of support). Since 2006, Wilders’ political ascension was described by many as irresistible. He played the other parties off against themselves and gained the support of a significant number of voters with his fiery anti-Islam, anti-immigration populist rhetoric. The 2010 election, after which the PVV managed to get the government to implement some of the tough immigration laws it wanted (in return for supporting the government’s austerity measures), was perhaps the peak of Wilders’ power.

While the PVV did not participate in the Rutte cabinet and only propped it up from the outside (even if Wilders tried to play the role of the opponent at the same time), being close to an incumbent government is rarely a good idea for any far-right party in any country (especially under the present economic conditions). It is much easier for the far-right to grow while it is in opposition, and can freely oppose any government policy.

The far-right’s appeal is built on the rejection of other parties, their ideologies, their style, their policies and their record. Naturally, once a far-right party becomes closely associated with a government, it risks becoming tainted by any unpopular decisions that government might have taken and its own voters might perceive it as guilty by association.

The PVV has shifted towards some fairly ‘left-wing’ positions on certain economic issues such as pensions, wages and so forth. However, at the same time, Wilders’ party supported a cabinet which implemented pretty stringent austerity measures. The far-right, the PVV no different, always has a strong attraction for lower-income voters who feel as if they have been “forgotten” by the major parties and see in the far-right a way to protest their perceived exclusion from society. I would assume, though without data to back me up, that the PVV likely lost a lot of those voters this year.

Other factors also played against Geert Wilders this year. Firstly, in the run up to the elections, there was much public infighting within the party. One of its MPs, Hero Brinkman, left the party in March 2012. Some other members left the party, some citing Wilders’ autocratic leadership of the party. Though Brinkman’s splitoff party, the “Democratic Political Turning Point” (I have no clue what’s that supposed to mean!) won only 0.1% (7.6k votes) of the vote, public infighting is never beneficial for any party.

Immigration was a major issue in the 2010 election, something which obviously played to Wilders’ advantage. This year, immigration did not feature as prominently in the election, rather the economy was the overarching issue. Wilders attempted to reinvent himself and move outside of the far-right’s traditional reliance on its niche issue, immigration. He ran a very anti-European, anti-Euro campaign, presenting himself as the defender of Dutch sovereignty against Brussels. He called on the Netherlands to ditch the euro and readopt its old currency, the guilder.

When he pulled the plug on the government in April, Wilders was convinced that he would have the momentum on his side and that voters would flock to his party in the context of the Euro crisis. However, for the first time in a long time, Wilders apparently miscalculated. To some of his original voters, he had lost his credibility by backing a pro-austerity government. Other voters grew tired of Wilders’ roughshod style and his incessant aggressiveness towards other party leaders. In this election, Dutch voters expressed not only a ‘pro-European’ choice but also a vote for political stability.

Many voters disapproved of Wilders’ decision to pull on the plug on the government, in addition to his other antics. Voters wanted stability, they don’t want another election and they don’t really like politicians like Wilders who topple government for partisan reasons.

The PVV lost 5.3% support compared to the 2010 election. It lost the most, by far, (-9%) in Limburg province, Wilders’ home turf and the PVV’s strongest province (it won 17.7% in Limburg this year, a far cry from the impressive 26.7% the party got there in 2010). In Limburg, his decline likely helped the SP a bit. However, in general, it seems as if a good share of those 2010 PVV voters who abandoned Wilders this year shifted towards the ranks of non-voters, with smaller amounts shifting to the VVD or the SP.

People should not be writing Geert Wilders’ obituary just yet. He remains a very strong politician with a remarkable ability to hurt other parties, and this defeat may only be a setback for the party. The PVV will be in opposition no matter what during the next legislature, and being in opposition is, of course, the most lucrative spot for a far-right party like the PVV. Just because Wilders lost 9 seats doesn’t mean that he’s politically dead, nor does it mean that the ideas which he represents in the Dutch political discourse have been soundly rejected. The electorate’s general mood in the Netherlands remains pretty conservative on immigration and integration issues, and regardless of what happens to Wilders and the PVV from this point forward, he will have left his mark on Dutch politics and policy for quite some time.

The SP had a very disappointing election, victim of the legendary volatility of the Dutch electorate. I don’t need to restate that the SP was on track to winning an historic result and place itself in contention for first place, until the train totally came off the rails and it lost everything it had gained back to the PvdA. Furthermore, at the last moment, the SP lost another chunk of support. Final polls had predicted that it would win 20 seats, still a modest improvement over its 2010 results (15 seats), but it managed to win only 15 seats and remain at its 2010 levels. We can attribute this last-minute shift away from the SP, likely to the PvdA, to strategic/tactical voting for Samsom and Labour.

I’m not sure if SP leader Emile Roemer deserves blame for this very underwhelming result. Sure, he’s responsible and his debate performance was apparently sub-par, but I feel as if he was the inadvertent victim of the Dutch electorate’s legendary volatility and of the fact that most of the SP’s impressive gains earlier in 2012 was apparently very “soft” in nature. Perhaps voters on the left did prefer pro-European options like the PvdA, maybe they did prefer a more “prime ministerial” leader like Samsom over an untested populist leader like Roemer. I’m not Dutch and can’t judge the campaigns, but my opinion is that Roemer and the SP didn’t necessarily lead a bad campaign, just that it turned out that the PvdA ran a (much) better campaign which was closer to the political desires of left-wing voters.

Nevertheless, it was a very disappointing result for the SP in the end. It was really on the edge of making a fairly historic breakthrough, but everything seemed to come off the rails for SP at the last moment. When the rain started falling on the SP, it really poured. Its gains – all its gains - evaporated at a dizzying pace.

The SP held up better in its traditional southern strongholds, where the party grew its first roots in the 1980s and 1990s, rather than in the left-wing areas of the north where the SP’s strength is more recent. The party won only one municipality this year, Boxmeer in North Brabant, which is Emile Roemer’s hometown. It placed a close third with 20% in Oss, a working-class town in North Brabant which was the SP’s first stronghold (by the 1980s). In working-class regions of Limburg and North Brabant, the SP benefited from the traditional weakness of the other major left-wing parties (PvdA, CPN) in these two heavily Catholic provinces which voted monolithically for the KVP until the 1970s.

The CDA had an horrible election. With a puny 8.5% of the votes, the party won its worst result in its history. From an historical perspective, this is really something which is quite exceptional. Consider, for a moment, what the CDA was. It was the merger of three parties which had been the mainstay of basically every government in Dutch history since 1918, it is a party which represents (represented?) the Christian democratic tradition which had been the dominant force of the “right” in the Netherlands. The CDA wasn’t the natural governing party because Dutch politics don’t work like that and the CDA had some pretty terrible results prior to 2010 already (1998), but the CDA is/was very much the natural party of government. Since the CDA’s foundation in 1977, the only time it was not in government was between 1994 and 2002 with the Purple coalitions of Wim Kok. Prior to that, every government since 1918 had included at least one of the CDA’s three ‘mother parties’.

The CDA’s original collapse in the last election was because its incumbent PM, Balkenende, had really served his time and voters had grown tired of him and his inability to keep his governments together for very long. Following the 2010 defeat and Balkenende’s resignation as leader, the CDA remained in government, but it lacked a permanent leader until earlier this year (its de facto leader and Deputy PM in Rutte’s government, Maxime Verhagen, was extremely unpopular). It’s certainly not very good for a junior coalition partner to lack a permanent leader for two years.

The CDA proved to be an utter disaster as a junior coalition partner, with the appearance that it was getting run over by the VVD and the PVV. The CDA keep insisting throughout the Rutte government that it was, fundamentally, a “centrist” party. Unsurprisingly, it’s a tough sell to explain a centrist party’s participation in a government which most have judged to have been one of the most right-wing in recent Dutch history, one which was propped by the far-right.

Lacking a strong leader and devoid of any particularly attractive ideas, the CDA was utterly crushed at the polls. Since 2010, the CDA really had the appearance of an ideologically ambiguous party which was particularly eager to remain in government, at any possible price, including sacrificing what it claimed to have stood for. Many CDA voters voted for the VVD this year. Senior coalition partners in the Netherlands usually receive a “Prime Minister bonus” when they seek reelection, provided they are not unpopular.

The CDA’s electoral geography shows how far the party has fallen. It won only two rural municipalities in Overijssel this year. The party has dropped down into irrelevance in the bulk of the urbanized Randstad region of Holland, it won only 2.2% in Amsterdam (less than the animals’ party!) and won low single digits across all major urban areas. But it has dropped off to single digits in the North Brabant and Limburg, the old monolithic strongholds of the Catholic Party. In 2010, it held on to a rump of support, largely rural and predominantly from the east (Overijssel in particular). This year, it lost that last remaining base of support, largely to the VVD.

What the CDA desperately needs is a really long stay in opposition, where it can try to reinvent itself, ask itself who it as a party and where it must go from this point forward. As it stands right now, the VVD has really supplanted it as the major right-of-centre force in Dutch politics, and while Dutch voters are very volatile, I admittedly have a hard time seeing the CDA roar back to its former glory in the next election unless it has some fabulous leadership material which I don’t know about.

D66, on the other hand, had another good election. The party has a famous tendency to see its support evaporate once it enters government (see, for example, the 2006 election for D66 after it was in government between 2003 and 2006). After the 2006 election, D66 and its leader, Alexander Pechtold, gained a solid reputation as one of the vocal opponents of Geert Wilders.

I’m not really sure where D66′s minor gains this year came from. It improved most in places where it usually strong, gaining, for example, over 3% in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Are these GL voters unhappy with all the infighting within their party? Are these a few VVD voters who disapproved of the right-wing direction their party had taken? D66′s electorate is remarkably volatile and the party generally attracts highly educated, middle-class social-liberal voters without a strong partisan affiliation.

The GroenLinks (GreenLeft) had a very bad election, its worst result since the GL’s creation in 1989. GL’s significant loses can be attributed to internal infighting and the party’s unsuccessful ideological transitions. In recent months and weeks, the GL was wracked by internal wranglings, with dissident MPs denouncing the leadership of Jolande Sap or retiring MPs revealing how group communication had broken down within the party. It is never a good idea for any party to let its dirty laundry hang outside.

Since 2002-2003, the party has attempted to transform itself ideologically. Since the 1980s, all major Dutch parties (CDA, VVD, D66, PvdA, SP) have shifted to the right to an extent or another, and the GL has been no exception. Early on, the party leadership worked to marginalize the ‘radicals’ – pacifists, eco-socialists or activist types. Under the leadership of Femke Halsema and now under Jolande Sap, GL has tried to present itself as a pragmatic, responsible centre-left party. The party supported the wars in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, already a significant shift for a party whose ancestors included staunch pacifists (from the PSP). In 2011, the party’s decision to back the government’s extension of the Dutch police training mission in Afghanistan generated much controversy within the party. On economic issues, the party also progressively shifted to the right, for example supporting measures which would make it easier for employers to fire employees. Its goal was to profile itself as a responsible and respectable centre-left party which backed “innovative” economic policy.

Halsema had defined herself and the party as “left-liberal” or social-liberal, which was outrageous for some of the party’s core activists, who resented a shift from the “radical left” to the centre-left. It must be remembered that the GL’s ideological shift rightwards is a long-term process, and it was initially met with some success. What seems to have destroyed the party was its decision, after the PVV pulled the plug on the government, to support the centre-right government’s emergency budget (the Spring Agreement). The Spring Agreement, in which all signatory parties agreed that the country should meet the EU’s 3% deficit limit at all costs, was supported by the VVD/CDA, the CU, D66 and the GL. The GreenLeft didn’t come out empty-handed, but it did accept major cuts in entitlements and social services.

In seeking to reinvent itself, the GL has seemingly forgotten who it was to begin with. It may have a responsible governance-oriented leadership, but it lacks clear political coherence and has a demotivated membership and a leaky electorate. Basically, in joining the Spring Agreement and shifting to the right, the party’s leadership severely miscalculated and seemed to have forgotten who its electorate was. The party’s electorate is fundamentally left-wing, but the party’s leadership basically preferred to transform GL into a second D66. D66 already successfully serves the role of a centre-left, social-liberal and ‘responsible’ party, there is no room for a second D66.

The party’s electorate was either demotivated or disillusioned by GL, especially after the Spring Agreement. Most of GL’s sizable loses likely flowed to the PvdA, maybe a few to D66, the SP and the animals’ party.

The Christian testimonial parties remained, roughly, at their levels. The SGP did manage to win a third seat, the first time since 1998, and its best popular vote result since 1973; something which is particularly amusing but also interesting, though I guess that people in that small gene pool reproduce really well (it likely also regained votes that it had lost to the PVV in 2010). The CU lost a bit, but it held its 5 seats. These two uniquely Dutch parties represent conservative, traditionalist factions of the Dutch Protestant (or Reformed) church, the so-called bevindelijk gereformeerd.

The SGP remains the most traditionalist (and openly theocratic) of the two parties, it is famous for shutting down its website on Sundays and for banning women from the party until quite recently. During the campaign, SGP leader Kees van der Staaij echoed Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape”, stating that he believes that women who get raped seldom become pregnant. The party has a small but extremely tight-knit, solid electorate concentrated in the Netherlands’ Bible Belt, a conservative religious region where church attendance remains high. The former island of Urk is a noted stronghold of this ultra-conservative Protestant tradition, the SGP won 51% in Urk this year with the CU pulling in 18%.

The CU is a more ‘open’ party, which accepts participating in governments, and has attempted to open itself to conservative Catholic voters as well. It was formed by the merger of two parties, one of which represented a 1944 split in the Reformed Churches and which was closely tied to that church, and another party which represented orthodox Protestants who rejected the merger of the ARP and CHU within the CDA. The CU has very right-wing positions on moral (‘social’) issues and is Eurosceptic, but it is more left-wing on economic issues. It too is predominantly concentrated in the Bible Belt region.

The Animals’ Party (PvdD) held its two seats and came very close to winning a third seat, with 1.9% of the vote, it has won its best result yet. The party’s additional support this year likely came from particularly environmentalist left-wing GL supporters. Another party made its entrance into the Second Chamber, 50PLUS, a new centre-left pensioners’ party.

Government Formation

The VVD/CDA/(+PVV) coalition will not be continued, it no longer has a majority (only 69 out of the required 76 seats) and the PVV has announced that it will be in opposition regardless. There are relatively few options on the table, which means that the formation of the new government – probably still led by Mark Rutte – will probably not take as long as in 2010.

The option which almost all parties seem to accept is a small Purple government, similar to the Wim Kok cabinets between 1994 and 2002 which included the PvdA and the VVD (plus D66). Both of these parties on their own hold 79 seats, but they lack a majority in the Senate. The two parties will negotiate with each other first, and then they will invite other parties to join negotiations. There a few roadblocks on the way. The PvdA has shifted slightly to the left since the Kok Purple cabinets of the 1990s, while the VVD has shifted to the right since then. The two parties are pro-European but they have disagreements on economic issues (austerity) or healthcare (the VVD supports private options in healthcare). A small Purple government would probably not last for its full term, but both parties have some interest in working together in a relatively stable pro-European government.

Still, a small Purple government remains the top possibility. It could be extended to the CDA (which doesn’t seem to understand that they really, really need some time-out from governments!) and D66. During the Kok cabinets, D66 was seen as the glue which held the PvdA and VVD together. It seems interested in the possibility of participation in a VVD/PvdA cabinet, as does the CDA. VVD+PvdA+D66 would still lack a majority in the Senate, but VVD+PvdA+CDA or VVD+PvdA+D66+CDA would have senatorial majorities.

If negotiations between the VVD and the PvdA ultimately fall through, the PvdA has signaled interest in trying to work out something with the SP (a shift from the party’s attitudes in previous years, when it was very reticent of working with the SP), which rejects a VVD/PvdA cabinet but is interested in a centre-left government with the PvdA. A “red” coalition with only the PvdA and the SP would lack a majority, so it would need the participation of the CDA and D66. However, neither of these two centrist parties seem too keen on the idea of working with the SP.

It will be interesting to observe the effects of a new government, even with the same Prime Minister, on Dutch politics. Was the PVV’s big tumble a final defeat or only a setback along the way? Are the CDA’s days as one of the major parties in Dutch politics gone for good, or can the party roar back spectacularly? What is the next step for the SP after a very underwhelming election? Will D66′s possible participation in cabinet lead to the party getting hammered, as per tradition? Where will the GreenLeft go from here? So many questions, and so many answers which will be so interesting (like everything in Dutch politics!).

Netherlands Provincial 2011

Provincial elections were held in the Netherlands on March 2. As an intermediary level between the state and the municipalities, the twelve Dutch provinces have limited powers and largely carry out minor administrative duties and serve as links between the top and lower echelons of government. Yet, the provincial legislatures are responsible for electing the Senate or Eerste Kamer, which unlike other indirectly elected upper houses, has the power to veto legislation. The current Rutte coalition (VVD/CDA with PVV support) lacks a majority in the Senate, with 35 out of 75 seats. Provincial elections thus carry a much more important national message despite the strength of some local regionalist parties in certain provinces.

Turnout was 56%, up from 46% in 2007 and the highest turnout since 1995. Here are the results:

VVD 19.57% (+1.48%) winning 113 seats (+12)
PvdA 17.29% (-0.64%) winning 108 seats (-6)
CDA 14.18% (-10.8%) winning 86 seats (-65)
PVV 12.42% winning 69 seats
SP 10.15% (-4.67%) winning 57 seats (-26)
D66 8.33% (+5.77%) winning 42 seats (+33)
GroenLinks 6.29% (+0.14%) winning 33 seats (+1)
CU 3.32% (-2.15%) winning 23 seats (-12)
50+ 2.36% winning 9 seats
SGP 2.19% (-0.2%) winning 12 seats (-2)
PvdD 1.87% (-0.68%) winning 6 seats (-3)
Regionalists and others 1.14% (-2.54%) winning 4 seats (-3)
CU/SGP 0.5% (-0.38%) winning 1 seat (-2)
Frisian Nationalist Party 0.39% (-0.11%) winning 4 seats (-1)

And the distribution of seats by province:

Groningen: PvdA 12 (nc), VVD 6 (+1), SP 6 (-1), CDA 5 (-4), D66 3 (+2), PVV 3, GL 3 (nc), Regionalist 1 (nc), PvdD 1 (nc)
Friesland: PvdA 11 (-1), CDA 8 (-4), VVD 6 (+1), FNP 4 (-1), PVV 4, SP 3 (-1), CU 3 (nc), GL 2 (nc), D66 2 (+2)
Drenthe: PvdA 12 (-1), VVD 9 (+1), CDA 6 (-4), PVV 4, SP 4 (-1), GL 2 (+2), CU 2 (-1), GL 2 (nc)
Overijssel: CDA 11 (-6), PvdA 9 (nc), VVD 8 (+2), PVV 4, SP 4 (-2), D66 3 (+3), CU 3 (-2), GL 2 (nc), SGP 2 (nc), 50+ 1
Flevoland: VVD 10 (+1), PvdA 6 (-1), PVV 6, CDA 4 (-4), SP 3 (-3), D66 3 (+3), CU 3 (-2), GL 2 (nc), SGP 1 (nc), 50+ 1
Gelderland: VVD 11 (+2), PvdA 10 (nc), CDA 9 (-6), PVV 6, SP 6 (-1), D66 4 (+3), GL 3 (nc), CU 2 (-2), SGP 2 (-1), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Utrecht: VVD 11 (+1), PvdA 7 (-1), CDA 6 (-5), PVV 5, D66 5 (+3), GL 4 (nc), SP 4 (-1), CU 2 (-2), SGP 1 (nc), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Noord-Holland: VVD 13 (nc), PvdA 11 (nc), PVV 6, D66 6 (+4), SP 5 (-4), CDA 5 (-5), GL 5 (nc), PvdD 1 (-1), Regionalist 1 (nc), 50+ 1, CU/SGP 1 (-1)
Zuid-Holland: VVD 12 (nc), PvdA 10 (nc), PVV 8, CDA 6 (-7), SP 5 (-3), D66 5 (+4), GL 3 (nc), CU 2 (-2), SGP 2 (nc), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Zeeland: VVD 7 (+1), PvdA 7 (+1), CDA 6 (-4), PVV 5, SGP 4 (-1), SP 3 (-2), Regionalist 2 (nc), CU 2 (-1), D66 2 (+2), GL 1 (-1)
Noord-Brabant: VVD 12 (+1), CDA 10 (-8), PVV 8, SP 8 (-4), PvdA 7 (-1), D66 5 (+4), GL 3 (+1), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Limburg: PVV 10, CDA 10 (-8), VVD 8 (+1), PvdA 6 (-2), SP 6 (-3), GL 3 (+1), D66 2 (+1), 50+ 2

results missing in Uden (North-Brabant) – you don’t have all year, folks

The results were largely similar to the 2010 results. The CDA performed poorly, but on the good side they didn’t do as badly as predicted and slightly improved on their pathetic 2010 showing (13.6%). Yet, the party is still in a very dire state as it lacks a leader and is still split 50/50 over participation in the government. In this context, the CDA’s result isn’t as bad as it could be made out but it certainly is a terrible showing compared to 2007 or past elections. The CDA is the largest party only in Overijssel whereas it had been the largest party in 8 provinces in 2007. Its Catholic strongholds of North-Brabant and Limburg haven’t come back.

The VVD’s vote fell slightly since 2010 (20.5% to 19.6%) and is the de-facto but not overwhelming winner of these elections. The VVD will be able to control many provinces, but apart from that its results are not all that great.

PvdA (Labour), the main opposition party, did poorly falling over 2 points on 2010 (19.6% to 17.3%) which reflects the poor job its done in opposition and its not too popular leader, Job Cohen. With 12% and 69 seats, establishing for itself a local base, the PVV is the big winner but its result is slightly below that set by the polls and 3 points lower than its record 15.4% in 2009. The party held its ground in its northern strongholds and has probably gained Friesland from the CDA.

The PVV’s vote has receded somewhat in Wilder’s native Limburg where it won only 20% where it had previously won 27% (in 2010). It seems to have fallen back considerably in the north (Groningen) since 2009. Yet, the PVV hasn’t – yet – suffered the potential wrath of its voters for supporting a government. Perhaps the government’s decent popularity explains why the PVV is still doing well. If it can maintain such results, the PVV could be on its way to forging itself a stable place in Dutch politics hovering between 10 and 15% similar to the FN in France between 1986 and 2007. But I wager that government backing will prevent the PVV from doing that just now (the FN never supported from the outside any government).

The Socialists performed poorly (10.2%, 9.8% in 2010), continuing to suffer from an evaporation of support (a good share to the PVV) since the retirement of its popular leader Jan Marijnissen who attracted a lot of voters prior to the PVV’s rise with anti-immigration rhetoric. The SP municipalities in North-Brabant and Limburg are around Boxmeer, the hometown of SP leader Emile Roemer.

D66 had good results, improving by 1.3% on its 7% showing in 2010 and by nearly 6% since 2007. The 2007 elections were held in the wake of the D66′s traditional slump following its being in government (it was in the CDA-led cabinet until 2006) and now as the D66 is out of government they’re on an upswing. D66 is particularly successful in positioning itself as a strongly anti-PVV party, so watch for its polling to improve further as/if the government gets more unpopular and if Labour is unable to capitalize on that. D66 won two municipalities, Delft and Leiden, both of which are uni towns.

The GroenLinks were remarkably stable, polling slightly under its 6.7% 2010 showing and a bit over its 6.1% showing in 2007. The party has suffered a bit from its support of legislation to send police officers to Afghanistan to train the Afghan police. It shed one seat in Zeeland, where it was in the outgoing provincial coalition government. It also lost votes in urban areas in North and South Holland as well as Utretch, Groningen and Arnhem.

CU fell back considerably after a strong showing in 2007 but its result is slightly over its 2.9% 2010 result. It may have been hurt from participation in a large number of provincial governments. The SGP, which has a very stable fossilized electorate, held up more or less well and again managed to top the poll in a number of municipalities in the Bible Belt including its orthodox Reformist stronghold of Urk in Flevoland (46% for the SGP, 10.1% for ‘non-Christian’ [CDA, CU, SGP] parties). The CU and SGP ran a common list in North-Brabant and North-Holland.

50+ is a new senior’s interest party founded by maverick former PvdA member Jan Nagel. Provincial parties largely fell back, with regionalist or local parties losing their seats in Limburg, Brabant, South-Holland and Utretch. The FNP fell back a bit in Friesland, while the Party for the North (Groningen), Party for Zeeland (Zeeland) and the Elderly Party (North Holland) held their seats. The PvZ even managed to win one town in Zeeland.

These provincial States-General will elect a new Senate in May. Though provincial MPs may vote for parties other than their own in Senate elections, it is estimated that the new Senate will look as such:

VVD 16 seats (+2)
PvdA 14 seats (nc)
CDA 11 seats (-10)
PVV 10 seats (+10)
SP 8 seats (-4)
D66 6 seats (+4)
GroenLinks 5 seats (+1)
CU 2 seats (-2)
50+ 1 seat (+1)
SGP 1 seat (-)
PvdD 1 seat (nc)
Regionalists and others 0 seats (-1)

If the new Senate does indeed look like this, the government and PVV will have 37 seats (+2) but will fall one short of an overall majority. It is very much possible, however, that the SGP and CU could provide the government with a de-facto majority through its support. D66 has already expressed concern over the SGP’s potential support for the government in the Senate.

Netherlands 2010

As covered in a large preview post only a few days ago, the Netherlands went to the polls to elect the 150 members of the country’s lower house, the Tweede Kamer. The election was held as a result of the collapse of the fourth Balkenende cabinet over the Afghanistan issue. The Netherlands’ very proportional electoral system – which is in effect PR with a threshold of 0.67% for representation allows for the predictable dispersion of voters between a number of parties, sometimes in complete ideological opposition to each other, which tend to represent the various sociological groups present in what is in reality a very diverse society. As a result, the composition of the Dutch Parliament is extremely divided and leads to large and sometimes difficult coalitions.

During the campaign, Prime Minister Balkenende’s CDA, the largest party in 2006, had suffered a polling free fall due to the growing unpopularity of his government and his personal inability to keep it together. This benefited largely the liberal VVD, whose platform and record of being the “deficit cutters” struck a chord with Dutch voters in a campaign largely focused on the economy and the need for budget cuts, an integral part of the VVD’s platform. The CDA and the PvdA, the junior partner which brought government down, also suffered from the growth since 2009 of the populist far-right Freedom Party (PVV) led by Geert Wilders thanks to concern about growing Muslim immigration. While immigration was not the main focus of this election and the PVV wasn’t polling as spectacularly as it had been earlier, it remained a major issue. A rejuvenated PvdA under Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen enjoyed a boost in polls earlier this year, but Cohen’s poor debate performance and his economic inexperience saw the party’s fortunes go down a bit even though he did manage to squish the D66 and GreenLeft and stole their past thunder, that is, vocal opposition to Wilders. Here are the results:

VVD 20.45% (+5.78%) winning 31 seats (+9)
PvdA 19.60% (-1.60%) winning 30 seats (-3)
PVV 15.46% (+9.57%) winning 24 seats (+15)
CDA 13.69% (-12.82%) winning 21 seats (-20)
SP 9.87% (-6.71%) winning 15 seats (-10)
D66 6.89% (+4.93%) winning 10 seats (+7)
GroenLinks 6.63% (+2.03%) winning 10 seats (+3)
ChristianUnion 3.26% (-0.71%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SGP 1.75% (+0.19%) winning 2 seats (nc)
PvdD 1.29% (-0.53%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Trots op Nederland 0.56% winning 0 seats

The polls before the vote indicated around 33-34 seats for the VVD, “comfortably” ahead of the PvdA, predicted at 30, the CDA between 23-24 and the PVV with 17-18. What happened is what is locally called the “curtain effect” or the Dutch “Bradley effect”; that is, an underestimation of the PVV’s real strength by pollsters – similar to what had happened in 2009 or 2006 in the Netherlands or in 2002 in France. The PVV’s real strength came at the expense of the VVD, which saw itself practically tied with the PvdA, but also the CDA which fell even further into a pathetic fourth place.

The VVD is the winner of this election, but it is neither an historic victory nor is it a massive victory. In fact, it has only broken 20.4% (it had won 24.7% in 1998) and has only benefited of the division of the vote to come out a narrow first in a rather inconclusive election. The PvdA’s election result is far from surprising and could either be considered as good given that they largely held up despite being junior partners in an unpopular government (and being responsible for a snap election) or could be considered as poor given that this is their second straight election losing seats. Unlike in 2006, however, it did not lose seats to the SP, but rather to the PVV, which is not surprising both given the general likelihood of white working-class voters flirting with the far-right and the tough immigration line taken by both SP and PVV (though the PVV’s is harsher, obviously). Compared to pre-election polls, the PVV had a good election and shows that it can both hold up its 2009 vote and that immigration as a factor in protest voting remains important even in an election not entirely dominated by immigration (unlike 2009). Yet, talks of a “nationalist breakthrough” or whatever the media is saying today misses the point. The PVV’s result is inferior, albeit only slightly, to its 17% result in 2009; and any person who has tracked polling since then will know that the PVV enjoyed a massive upswing during an anti-immigration and anti-politician mood in 2009 and even earlier in 2010. All this isn’t to say that the PVV has reason to be disappointed, but rather that the PVV’s showing isn’t as great as the media would like it to be (perhaps because it wouldn’t fit in entirely with their general doom-and-gloom message). The real loser is obvious, it’s the CDA. A governing party dwindling to fourth is not entirely surprising in the Netherlands, but it remains a major story. The real story is that the CDA, with a ridiculous number of barely 13.7%, has done worse than all mainline “Christian” parties put together in the Netherlands since proportional representation was introduced in 1918 (remembering that the CDA is an amalgamation, created in 1977, of the Catholic KVP and Reformed ARP and CHU). The CDA’s previous absolute low was around 18% in 1998. The SP did respectably, given the low name recognition of their unknown new leader and how their 2006 result was something of an anomaly, and likely shows that the SP can establish itself as a major option for voters disappointed in the PvdA’s recent-ish move towards the centre. It could also benefit from any fall in the PVV’s electoral fortunes (as could the PvdA and VVD). D66 and the GroenLinks, while they have pleasing results, could have hoped for more given their success in 2009 (11.3% and 8.9% respectively), but Job Cohen’s ability to make the liberal voters totally allergic to Wilders – who voted massively for D66 and GL, both vocal opponents of the PVV in 2009 – come back to the PvdA which was able to make itself the largest anti-Wilders pole for the (relatively small) share of voters totally allergic to Wilders’ politics. No comment is necessary for the smaller testimonial parties, who deal with a very well-defined and generally stable electorate, or the Animals Party which lost some votes likely as a result of a minor boost in the GroenLink’s results. One final epic fail was Verdonk’s Trots op Nederlands outfit, which never materialized as the “new LPF” despite posting leads in polls back in 2007-2008. Wilders and the VVD did her in and has ridiculed her electorally.

The NRC has a fun interactive map to play around with here. Below the table of results in this post, you’ll find a simple map showing the largest party in each municipality. Apparently, the VVD has totally dominated in the more urban and wealthier Randstad in Holland. This area, which was split between the CDA (in rural areas) and PvdA (in the urban cores of Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht) in 2006 provided the VVD with its victory in 2010. This shows both a shift in the rural CDA vote to the VVD (also observed in North Brabant and North Holland) and a further boost in the VVD’s historic base in wealthy suburban towns. The PvdA managed to hold on in the more working-class cities of Rotterdam and the Hague despite good VVD results (likely boosted by areas such as Scheveningen in the Hague) and traditional PVV strength in these white working-class areas. The PVV polled 17.8% in the Hague, 19.4% in Rotterdam, 16.4% in Haarlemmermeer (which includes the working-class Amsterdam suburb of Hoofddorp) and 20.5% in Purmerend (another working-class suburb of Amsterdam). The PVV’s best result, though, comes from Wilders’ home province of Limburg: a strongly Catholic province where the CDA usually did very well. However, Limburg tends to favour home-born candidates. The PVV did especially well, often nearing 35%, in towns such as Brunssum in the coal mining towns of south Limburg where the SP won in 2006. Finally, the PVV did well in a traditional PvdA stronghold (and the old stronghold of the Communist Party or NCPN) in the Oldambt with results over 20% in most of this poor area bordering Germany. This poor area of northern Groningen, an old base of the left (and still a base of the left and the weakest region for the VVD), has good soil and has been the base of large farms and exploitation of small poor farmers by large landowners. Voters in this region often “vote with their middle-finger” (explaining the CPN’s, and, now, the PVV’s strength). The eastern Netherlands, which is usually poor (and devoutly religious) as well, but has less of a “big landowner exploiting small farmers” history has lower results for the PVV and VVD (which has little base in this region with few large conurbations and suburbs) and provides the CDA’s only provincial win (Overijssel) and strong area. The CDA’s annihilation by the VVD and CDA in its traditional Catholic bases of North Brabant and Limburg is especially striking. Shockingly, D66 and GroenLinks did best in wealthy liberal urban areas. However, Job Cohen’s popularity in Amsterdam kept the votes for both parties (which were over 20% in 2009) down because the PvdA managed to increase its vote share in the country’s largest city by 5% vis-a-vis 2006. The PvdA won 35% against 16.8% for the VVD, 12.5% for GroenLinks, 11.9% for D66, 9.4% for the PVV, 7.3% for the SP and a pitiful 3.3% for the CDA. Amsterdam’s results are always a stark contrast with the rest of the country, but slightly less so this year. The SGP, a perfect example of a fossilized party in a proportional system, managed to win a number of towns, showing how geographically concentrated its voters are. Its victories are either in orthodox Reformed enclaves (eg; Urk) or the Bible Belt.

The CDA’s weaker-than-expected showing reduced coalition possibilities. There are basically only four majority outcomes and two minority outcomes:

VVD/PvdA/CDA: 82
VVD/PvdA/D66/GL: 81
VVD/CDA/D66/GL/CU: 77
VVD/PVV/CDA: 76
VVD/CDA/D66/GL: 72
VVD/CDA: 52 (relying on support from the PVV, D66 or GL)

With the VVD’s platform including cuts in unemployment insurance, increasing tuition, slashing child care, slashing development aid and so forth, talks will be hard with the PvdA and the left. The PvdA would be indeed suicidal to enter government with a party which will likely take out the sword and cut on every side. A government with the CDA, which will be leaderless now that Balkenende has resigned, is more likely. This could either be a minority relying on support from its left (D66-GL) or the right (PVV). A government including the PVV is also a possibility, and is often played by the media as its scare-tactic. However, the PVV would likely be decimated quite badly in the next election if it does enter government (remember LPF in 2003, FPÖ in 2002) as its (protest) voters would associate it with government and the inevitable decline in said government’s popularity. At any rate, whichever government is formed, I’d place bets that the next election will be before 2014.

Election Preview: Netherlands 2010

The Netherlands’ lower house is up for re-election in a snap election which will be held on June 9, 2010. This election came as a result of the collapse of the fourth Jan Peter Balkenende cabinet in late February 2010 over the extension of the Dutch mission in Afghanistan. Balkenende’s Christian Democrats (CDA) support for an extension of the mission in Afghanistan led to the resignation of its junior ally, the Labour Party (PvdA). The Queen dissolved the House of Representatives, or, as it is more commonly known, the Tweede Kamer for a general election on June 9, less than four years after the last election in November 2006.

warning: long post

Electoral System

The Netherlands uses one of the “purest” systems of party-list proportional representations. The 150 seats in the Tweede Kamer are allocated on the functions of vote casts in relations to seats, giving a threshold of 0.67% for representation. Party lists are headed by a top candidate or lijsttrekker. Parties may also form a list connection or Lijstverbinding in order to grant them more seats when the remainder seats are allocated – after the initial seats are allocated, the remainder seats are allocated using the d’Hondt largest averages method. The low threshold and national list system obviously makes it practically impossible for one party to form a government commanding a majority by itself. As a result, coalition formation is a long-winded process which is similar to the process which takes place in Belgium, with an informateur and formateur.

Political History and Parties

The Netherlands is known to most people by vague misconceptions: it is, according to most, an extremely liberal country with a very permissive culture and legal system. However, that only applies to Amsterdam and other isolated towns. Furthemore, the country’s name is the Netherlands and not Holland.

Pillarization and Dutch Politics pre-1946

Dutch political history – and society – was long pillarized - similar to Belgium today. In a largely Protestant country but with a sizeable Catholic population, the country’s politics as well as society, labour structure and media was strictly organized according to four basic pillars: Protestants, Catholics, liberals (usually the secular or nominally Protestant elite) and the working-class. These four pillars, which was founded on the concept of sphere sovereignty, lived independently with their own party (or parties), trade unions, newspaper, schools, media sources and even hospitals or pastimes. This theory of sphere sovereignty was first expounded by the orthodox Protestant Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP).

The ARP was founded in 1879 as a conservative and orthodox reaction to the liberalizing Dutch Reformed Church. While originally anti-Catholic, supporting anti-Catholic legislation of the late 1800s, the party under Abraham Kuyper quickly came around to support pillarization. It aimed to break a bond between Catholics and liberals by pushing the main issue of pre-1918 Dutch politics: equalization of payment between public and religious schools, supported by both Catholics and Protestants but opposed by liberals. The ARP, however, was unsuccessful before 1917-1918 in passing equal funding for religious schools and also split internally over the issue of suffrage. Kuyper supported, after the 1891 election, a census reform which would give the vote to almost all males. However, the party’s aristocratic faction, which supported divine sovereignty over popular sovereignty, opposed the reform and formed a more anti-Papist splitoff which became known as the Christian Historical Union (CHU) after 1904. The CHU opposed cooperation with Catholics, which was the basis of Kuyper’s program (breaking the ‘anti-thesis’ of Catholic-liberal coalitions) as well as the census reform and the strong centralization of the ARP.

A major political reform in 1917, first applied in the 1918 elections, gave the ARP and the Catholics the equal funding they wished in return for accepting universal suffrage and proportional-representation. This led to the achievement of Kuyper’s goal of a lasting Catholic-Protestant coalition.

The Catholics, organized in the General League, a big-tent party for Dutch Catholics similar to the German Zentrum, had originally cooperated with the liberals because the liberals granted them more religious freedom. This ‘anti-thesis’ came apart as a result of the liberals’ refusal to equalize funding between state and private religious schools. The General League, a largely disorganized rag-tag collection of political Catholics, cooperated with the ARP and CHU in centre-right “religious” governments constantly between 1918 and 1933. The General League became the more organized Roman Catholic State Party (RKSP) in 1926 and garnered around 90% of the votes in the Catholic strongholds of Limburg and North Brabant – with the remaining Catholic votes going largely to the small Roman Catholic People’s Party (RKVP), a left-wing split-off of the General League formed in 1922 but which never enjoyed great success.

Up until 1933, two pillars remained outside government. The oldest of the two were the liberals, which dominated Dutch politics after 1848, but whose comfortable position of power prevented them from forming a cohesive, structured and united party similar the ARP. The liberals were supported by atheists and progressive Protestants, representing the urban bourgeoisie (as opposed to the more rural and older nobility and Protestant upper-class which supported the CHU). However, the liberals (or the Liberal Union) were divided between conservatives and progressives with a smaller centrist faction in between. Conservatives opposed census reform proposed by Tak in 1891, while progressives favoured universal suffrage and other political reforms. These divisions, which grew over time, led to various splitoffs. In 1893 the progressives in Amsterdam founded the Radical League, which became the Free-thinking Democratic League (VDB) in 1901. In 1906 the larger conservative faction created the League of Free Liberals. The liberals lost most of their support with PR after 1918 (pre-1918 elections, under two-round single-member voting, allowed various liberal factions to unite in the runoff and win more seats), and this, in part, led the League to merge with smaller parties to form the Liberal State Party in 1921.

The Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP), the largest faction of the Dutch socialist movement, was founded in 1894 and led until 1925 by Pieter Jelles Troelstra. The SDAP, like most European socialist movements, moved away from Marxist revolutionary ideology to a more moderate and parliamentary course under Troelstra, though the rift between revisionists and radicals in the SDAP which led to the foundation of the SDP, the predecessor of the Communist Party (CPN) happened in 1909. The SDAP’s electoral audience grew slowly over time, though it remained outside government until 1939 (though the SDAP had supported liberal cabinets before 1918). During this same period of time, the SDAP grew more moderate – less republican, dropped its demand for national disarmament and so forth.

Further on the fringes were the testimonial parties – ultra-orthodox Protestant parties who rejected any cooperation with the papist Catholics. The largest of these parties was the Reformed Political Party (SGP), a splitoff of the ARP founded in 1918 and known for its opposition to female suffrage. On the far-right, the Nazi movement in the country was led by the National Socialist Movement (NSB), of which Anton Mussert is the most famous leader. The NSB peaked at 8% support in the 1935 provincial elections.

Political Reform and the end of Pillarization – Dutch politics after 1946

Evolution of seats in the Tweede Kamer 1946-2006 (source: NL Wikipedia)

Following the end of World War II in 1946, many young reformers attempted to cause a doorbraak (breakthrough) in the political system and end the pillarized nature of Dutch society. As a move towards this goal, the VDB and SDAP united (along with a smaller Christian left party, the CDU) in 1946 and formed the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA). Their goal was to break the system by uniting Christians, socialists and liberals and breaking with the old stratified society, but this attempt was unsuccessful and the PvdA soon resumed close links with the linked organizations of the old SDAP. Disillusioned liberals left the party by 1948, and united with the small remnants of the Liberal State Party to form the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) – a liberal-oriented party in 1948.

Meanwhile, the old RKSP was re-branded as the Catholic People’s Party (KVP) and the ARP and CHU remained strong – though the respective ideologies of these parties gradually changed. The ARP became nationalist and opposed decolonization in the Dutch East Indies, a position which excluded it from the first Willem Drees cabinet (1948-1951) which pushed welfare reform and decolonization. The KVP became the dominant party of Dutch politics in this period and held the top spot – Prime Minister – between 1958 and 1966. Under Victor Marijnen, the Dutch economy boomed. The years up to 1965 were the peak years for the KVP, but the KVP as well as the other confessional parties – the ARP, now becoming a more progressive Christian social party; and the CHU, still conservative, saw their fortunes fall as depillarization decreased their electoral audience. The ARP also suffered from an earlier split in the Reformed Churches (the church closest to the ARP) and the emergence of a new testimonial parties: the Reformed Political League (GPV), which was also quite anti-Papist but slightly less ideologically insane than the SGP.

As in many countries, the late 60s ushered in new parties who sought to break the polarized and confessional nature of Dutch governments. In 1957, the Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP) had been founded by young left-wing dissidents of the PvdA and anti-Stalinist members of the CPNIn 1966, a group of students and activists led by charismatic journalist Hans van Mierlo founded Democrats 66 (D66), which sought a radical reform of the political system. It obtained 7 seats in 1967 and 11 seats in 1971, and cooperated with the PvdA, which was excluded from right-leaning cabinets following the 1967 and 1971 elections. These right-leaning cabinets led in 1968 to the foundation of a new party formed by the progressive members of the KVP which became known as the Political Party of Radicals (PPR).

In 1971, a “Progressive Coalition” linking the PvdA with D66 and the PPR failed to form government, which was formed by the KVP, which, despite losing quasi-steadily since 1967, was holding on to power along with the similarly embattled ARP and CHU. The Biesheuvel cabinet formed after the 1971 elections (consisting of the KVP, ARP, CHU, VVD and initially the right-wing splinter of the PvdA, DS ’70). In the 1972 elections, this Progressive Coalition managed to form a minority cabinet but only with the participation of progressive members of the KVP and ARP. The participation of the KVP and ARP weakened D66 and the PPR, but the Christian parties remained weak and quickly understood that something needed to be done. As early as 1967, cooperation between the three Christian parties had increased and they became closer allies. In 1973, a common federation consisting of the three parties was formed and the three parties competed as a common list in the 1977 elections under the name of Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA).

A poor economic outlook and a personal conflict between Prime Minister Joop den Uyl and his Justice Minister, the Catholic Dries van Agt wrecked the government and forced elections in 1977. While the PvdA won a record 33% and D66 made minor gains (thanks largely to a new social liberal instead of radical democratic line – 1972 through 1974 had been especially bloody for the party), the PPR collapsed and coalition talks stalled between the CDA and PvdA. Finally, after more than 200 days of coalition wrangling, a narrow majority was obtained for a CDA-VVD cabinet, though it lost its majority in the 1981 elections as D66 doubled its seat count from 8 to 17. Only a CDA-PvdA-D66 cabinet could be formed, led by van Agt but with den Uyl as his deputy. This poor coalition fell apart by 1982 and forced new elections, in which D66 collapsed and a new government was formed by the CDA and VVD, a cabinet led by Ruud Lubbers (CDA). Lubbers, whose party won large victories in 1986 and 1989, led a popular (at the outset) policy including budget cuts, pension reforms and public service liberalization. The coalition with the VVD lasted until 1989, at which point Lubbers was forced to form government with the PvdA.

Party lines moved again in the late 80s and early 90s. In 1989, the destalinized CPN (now on a New Left course) merged with the declining PPR, PSP and a smaller Evangelical Peoples’ Party (EVP) to form the GreenLeft or GroenLinks (GL). With 6 seats in the 1989 election, GL managed to put an end to the decline of the CPN-PPR-PSP-EVP block which had secured only 3 seats overall in 1986 (2 PPR, 1 PSP). During this same lapse of time, the PvdA moved further to the centre, becoming a party similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour in the UK. In the 1994 election, after a poor campaign by the CDA and declining popularity for its past policies, an unprecedented purple cabinet was formed between the PvdA, VVD and D66. D66 had done especially well in the elections, winning 24 seats, partly because of its efforts while in opposition. The new cabinet, formed by Wim Kok (PvdA) implemented social reforms (gay marriage, euthanasia, soft drug legalization) and centrist economic policies which proved largely popular in the 1998 elections in which both Labour and VVD made huge gains on the CDA (finishing third) and D66 (which lost 10 seats). The CDA had failed to adapt to life in opposition, being a party which had always been in government. In fact, the opposition to Kok came from its left – the GreenLeft and SP had been particularly vocal and successful in their opposition. The SP had won 2 seats in 1994, the first since its foundation in the early 70s as a Maoist splitoff of the CPN (it later dropped its Maoism); and climbed to 5 seats in 1998 while the GreenLeft won 11, up 6.

However, increased immigration caused tension by 2002, tensions exploited by charismatic politician Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated 9 days before the 2002 election. Fortuyn’s party, the LPF, was vocally opposed to increased Muslim immigration but was more liberal on social and economic issues. The LPF came second with 26 seats, while the PvdA collapsed to fourth, losing a full 22 seats. The VVD, growing  more conservative on immigration issues, saw much of its vote fall to the LPF, and lost 14 seats. D66 saw its caucus trimmed by half. The big winners, apart from the LPF, were the CDA, led by the non-controversial Jan Peter Balkenende, which finished first with 43 seats, and the SP which won 9 seats. The GreenLeft won 10 seats. A new party, the ChristianUnion, a union of two testimonial parties – the GPV and the Reformatory Political Federation (RPF) won 4 seats. The ChristianUnion is right-wing on social issues (in the American sense of the term) but more left-wing on environmental and economic issues.

The LPF was already growingly wrecked by internal divisions, but at the outset it formed cabinet with the CDA and VVD, though this cabinet collapsed after less than five months. In new elections held in 2003, the LPF collapsed to only 8 seats while the PvdA made major gains and the CDA and VVD solidified their positions. GreenLeft and D66 lost seats and the SP stagnated at 9 seats and proved unable to exploit its earlier high levels in polls because of tactical voting by left-wingers for the PvdA.

The second Balkenende coalition, formed by the CDA, VVD and D66 took a tougher line on immigration (especially with the controversial immigration minister, Rita Verdonk of the VVD) and a right-wing policy on social programs which were criticized very vocally by the SP, which was rapidly gaining speed in polls thanks to its opposition to the EU Constitution but also to the right-wing economic policies of the Balkenende cabinet. D66 pulled out of government and caused snap elections for 2006.

In 2006, the CDA remained stable losing only 3 seats, leaving it with 41 seats. Labour, led by Wouter Bos, fell 9 seats to 33 seats while the SP became the third party with 25 seats – a gain of 16 seats. The SP’s leader, Jan Marijnissen, was particularly popular. The VVD, led by the more liberal Mark Rutte, lost 6 seats and was left with 22 seats. The new far-right anti-immigration Party for Freedom (PVV) led by former VVD MP Geert Wilders did especially well with 9 seats. The GreenLeft lost 1 seat, leaving it with 7 while the ChristianUnion gained 3 for a total of 6. D66 again saw its caucus dwindle by half from 6 to only three MPs, while a new party, the Party for Animals (PvdD) won 2 seats, tying with the SGP. The LPF, hopelessly divided, lost all seats, most of its voters voting for Wilders’ new party. The new coalition was an unruly coalition formed by the CDA, PvdA and CU.

Parties and Issues

Afghanistan brought down the government, and the failure of Balkenende to keep cabinet together has reflected poorly on his party. Meanwhile, after 2009 which was focused quasi-exclusively on immigration and exploited by Geert Wilders’ PVV which won 17% in the Euros, the issue of immigration has  not been as present in this campaign as one would expect it to be.

There were also changes in style and leadership ahead of the vote. Wouter Bos stepped down from the leadership of the PvdA in favour of Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, much more popular and less tainted by the cabinet crises than Bos was. The SP, which lost a good leader in Jan Marijnissen when he stepped down in 2008, elected a new leader, Emile Roemer, in 2010 to replace the poor successor of Marijnissen, Agnes Kant. Marijnissen’s more conservative line on immigration in 2006 had played a part in the party’s success, winning many white working-class voters from Labour. In 2009, the PVV swept those voters and the SP has failed to solidify its gains with those voters.

The VVD, which has long advocated economic reforms (in the right-wing liberal sense of the term) and has been divided on the issue of immigration, took a tougher line on immigration this year despite its leader being the more liberal and pro-immigration Mark Rutte, who took the party’s leadership in 2006 over Rita Verdonk, who has since left the party to found her new outfit – Proud of the Netherlands (TON) which briefly led in polls back in 2008 but has since collapsed entirely. The VVD campaign is thus more right-wing on immigration and budget cuts which are, very surprisingly, supported by voters. The focus on economic issues in this campaign has hurt Wilders – who has a leftist economic policy – and Cohen, who is poor on economic issues. Cohen could not sustain a PvdA advantage in polls back in April. D66 and its leader Alexander Pechtold gained a lot in 2009 from being the most vocal opponents of Wilders’ far-right. Since then, a shift in popular focus from Wilders/immigration to economics has left D66 squished between the VVD and PvdA and losing most of its 2009 supporters to both parties.

The two main testimonial parties – CU and SGP – have remained unsurprisingly stable. I like to mention, for no real reason apart from fun, that the SGP still believes in male-only suffrage and party membership, rejects freedom of religion (it supports freedom of conscience), supports a theocracy, supports the death penalty and it closes its website on Sundays. These parties have strong support in the Protestant Bible Belt which stretches through rural central Netherlands and also includes the famous insular community of Urk.

Here is the latest poll by Synovate-Politieke Barometer

VVD 23% winning 36 seats (+14)
PvdA 19.7% winning 30 seats (-3)
CDA 14.7% winning 23 seats (-18)
PVV 10.2% winning 15 seats (+6)
SP 9.3% winning 14 seats (-11)
D66 7.6% winning 11 seats (+8)
GreenLeft 6.8% winning 10 seats (+3)
ChristianUnion 4.5% winning 7 seats (+1)
SGP 1.9% winning 2 seats (nc)
PvdD 1.9% winning 2 seats (nc)
TON/Verdonk 0.1%

The VVD coming first throws a lot of coalition predictions flying. Will Mark Rutte become the first liberal Prime Minister since 1918? Will he govern with the right and centre (CDA, D66, CU) or with the left (PvdA, D66)? What will be the government’s immigration policy, a topic which is of most interest to foreigners. A majority is 76 seats, and here are the most likely coalitions (on the assumption that VVD and SP don’t go together, that SGP remains outside government but CU can go inside).

VVD/PvdA/CDA: 89
VVD/PvdA/D66/GL: 87
VVD/PvdA/D66: 77
VVD/CDA/D66/CU: 77 (70 without CU)
PvdA/CDA/D66/GL: 74
VVD/CDA/PVV: 74
PvdA/SP/D66/GL: 65
CDA/PvdA/D66: 61
CDA/PvdA/GL: 60

The second and third options are the ones I would place my bets on.

Netherlands Locals 2010

The Netherlands held elections for the municipal councils in 394 of 431 municipalities on March 3.  Large cities, those with 200,000 and more inhabitants have councils of 45 seats, while less populated municipalities have fewer seats. These elections are regularly-scheduled, but they can be seen as a test for the early June 9, 2010 general elections, which are taking place as a result of the fall of the Balkenende 4 cabinet in February over the issue of the Netherlands’ mission in Afghanistan. However, the fact that local parties and independents are very strong in these local elections and that a number of parties, notably Wilder’s far-right PVV do not play a large role in these elections do blur the fine lines a bit.

I won’t go into the details on the Dutch political system right now, but in a post on the European elections in the country last year, I offered a brief overview of the main parties for reference. You may read it here.

In the 2006 local elections, the Labour Party (PvdA) won 23.2% of the vote, followed by local parties on 17.1% and the CDA at 17%. The VVD polled 13.6%. The PVV did not run in 2006, and D66 (2.7% in 2006) did not participate in a number of municipalities where they’re running this year. The PVV only ran in two municipalities this year: The Hague and Almere. Both are fertile municipalities for the far-right.

Here are the national results for the main parties. More results here.

Local Parties 21.2% (+4.1%) winning 2135 seats (+369)
PvdA 15.7% (-7.5%) winning 1246 seats (-674)
VVD 15.5% (+1.9%) winning 1405 seats (+210)
CDA 14.8% (-2.2%) winning 1533 seats (-192)
D66 8.1% (+5.4%) winning 534 seats (+390)
GL 6.6% (+0.8%) winning 422 seats (+36)
SP 4.1% (-1.3%) winning 250 seats (-56)
ChristianUnion 3.8% (+0.1%) winning 330 seats (+9)
Leefbaar 2.3% (-0.2%) winning 124 seats (+9)

The Leefbaar (Livable) outfits are old centrist populist/independent local parties, the most famous of which is Leefbaar Rotterdam (which is a Fortuynist outfit).

The big picture is generally in line with polls: the PvdA is the major loser, but the CDA suffers as well. The D66 is the big winner here, but that is blurred by the fact that the PVV only stood in two places. The PVV’s results in Almere (21.6%) seem slightly low for them, considering they did better during the European elections and lot expected them to poll in the 25-30% range there this time. Make of that what you want.

Here are the results in the major municipalities of interest. The incumbent coalition is indicate in brackets.

Amsterdam (PvdA-GL): PvdA 29.3% (15), VVD 16.9% (8), GL 15.1% (7), D66 14.8% (7), SP 7.3% (3), Red Amsterdam 3.7% (1), CDA 3.3% (2), PvdD 2.3% (1), TOP 2.3% (1)
Rotterdam (PvdA-VVD-GL-CDA): PvdA 28.8% (14), Leefbaar Rotterdam 28.6% (14), VVD 9.6% (4), D66 9.3% (4), GL 7.3% (3), CDA 6.8% (3), SP 5.5% (2), CU 3% (1)
The Hague (PvdA-VVD-GL): PvdA 21.2% (10), PVV 16.8% (8), VVD 14.6% (7), D66 11.9% (6), GL 6% (3), CDA 5.9% (3), SP 4% (2), local outfit 4.2% (2), PPS 3% (1), PvdD 2.4% (1), Islam Democrats 2.4% (1), A. Khoulani 2.4% (1)
Utrecht (PvdA-VVD-CDA-CU): GL 20.7% (10), PvdA 18.7% (9), D66 17.8% (9), VVD 15.6% (7), CDA 7.6% (4), SP 6% (3), Leefbaar Utrecht 3.8% (1), TOP 3.8% (1), CU 3% (1)
Almere (VVD-PvdA-CDA-CU): PVV 21.6% (9), PvdA 17.6% (8), VVD 15.3% (7), D66 8.3% (6), GL 8% (3), Leefbaar Almere 7.7% (3), SP 4.8% (2), CDA 4.6% (2), CU 2.8% (1), TOP 2.2% (1)

Amuse yourself with more results by municipality here.

Caribbean elections: January 2010

I don’t cover elections in small Caribbean islands, mostly because they have very small and largely unknown political setups and very little is known by the western media community about these elections (though granted, they don’t know much about any foreign elections). Two elections took place in the Caribbean this past month: on January 22 in the Netherlands Antilles and on January 25 in Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Netherlands Antilles

The Netherlands Antilles, composed of two major island groups; the Leeward Islands — Bonaire and Curaçao and the Windward Islands — are Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten; are self-governing in domestic affairs since 1954, but the entity is scheduled to disband when Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba become Dutch municipalities while Curaçao and St. Maarten become independent countries within the Netherlands, like Aruba.

Each island has its own political parties, but Curaçao parties dominate due to the island’s larger population. In Curaçao, the centrist Party for the Restructured Antilles, currently in power, won an additional seat for a total of 6 seats against 5 for the centre-left New Antilles Movement. The pro-independence Sovereign People party won 2 seats. In St. Maarten, the National Alliance has won the island’s 3 seats. In Bonaire, the Bonaire Patriotic Union won 2 seats against one for the Bonaire Democratic Party. In smaller St. Eustatius and Saba, the Democratic Party Sint Eustatius and the Windwards Islands People’s Movement respectively won their islands’ sole seat.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Kitts and Nevis, the smallest sovereign state in North America, independent since 1983, held elections for eleven members in its 15-seat legislature, the other four include three nominated members (called Senators and nominated by the Governor General) and one ex-officio member (the Attorney General). The centre-left Saint Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKLP), led by Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, has been in power since 1995 and was re-elected in 2000 and 2004. The opposition is led by the conservative Peoples’ Action Movement (PAM), which under Prime Minister Kennedy Simmonds ruled the islands between 1983 and 1995. The island of Nevis, which is smaller and with an historical tendency to oppose the stronger federal power in Saint Kitts (it attempted to secede in 1998), has two political parties; the Concerned Citizens’ Movement and the Nevis Reformation Party, both of which originally supported independence for Nevis.

The opposition’s campaign was mostly a campaign for change, focusing on corruption, cost of living and crime as well as the nation’s mounting foreign debt.

Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party 46.96% winning 6 seats (-1)
People’s Action Movement 32.24% winning 2 seats (+1)
Concerned Citizens’ Movement 10.99% winning 2 seats (nc)
Nevis Reformation Party 9.75% winning 1 seat (nc)

The SKLP lost one seat and 3.6% of the vote nationally, but Douglas won re-election with 91.4% in his constituency and PAM leader Lindsay Grant failed in his attempt to win a seat by only 29 votes. A change of a bit more than 700 votes in Saint Kitts in three constituencies would have given the PAM 5 seats to Labour’s 3 seats though Labour would still have won the most votes.

Europe 2009: Netherlands

The Netherlands, which has 25 MEPs (down from 27) voted today, the first country, along with the United Kingdom, to vote in these European elections.

The Netherland, which you probably know for it’s legal drugs, prostitution, gay marriage and the like, has a number of political parties. The two main parties, currently coalition partners (along with a smaller party) are the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Labour (PvdA). The CDA is a modern slightly conservative Christian democratic party, with strongest support from Catholics (26-31% of the population) in Southern Brabant and Limburg. Labour has become a party very similar to the New Labour in the United Kingdom and is based in the Dutch working class, in cities, and the northeastern provinces of Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe.

The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, most commonly known as VVD, is a centre-right strongly neo-liberal party that is generally more conservative-leaning on social issues. While the current VVD leader, Mark Rutte, is a social liberal, the VVD has a strongly anti-immigration conservative-populist wing (though that wing often splits off into splinter parties).

The GreenLeft (GroenLinks) is the main green party, which is “left-green” party – very socially liberal, youth-oriented, pro-immigration, anti-nuclear and so forth. The GroenLinks are especially strong in large university towns and in the homosexual community. The Socialist Party (SP) was founded as a Marxist party, though it has become a democratic-socialist party attracting a number of left-wing voters who used to support the PvdA when the PvdA was more left-wing.

The Netherlands have two Protestant “testimonial” parties – the ChristianUnion and the Reformed Political Party (SGP). The ChristianUnion is socially conservative, though it has more left-wing economic, immigration/international aid and environmental policies. ChristianUnion is a member of the current government. The SGP is probably one of the craziest party in the world – though its legislators are not raving lunatics and are quite sane in debates apparently. The SGP is radically pro-life, against television-radio, gambling, vaccinations, women’s suffrage (women and men are of equal value, but not equal. Women membership was forbidden until 2006), freedom of religion, pro-death penalty and closes its website on Sundays. The SGP also supports a theocracy, and therefore rejects any participation in any government.

In radical opposition to the SGP you have Democrats 66 (D66), an economically centrist and socially liberal/libertarian party, which is also strongly “green” and pro-Europe (favouring a federal Europe). D66 has a very volatile young (female and well-educated) electorate, with lows at 1% and highs at 14-15%.

The new force in Dutch politics is the Party for Freedom (PVV) founded by VVD populist Geert Wilders. Wilders and the PVV are known for their radically anti-Islam policies, they support a halt of immigration from non-western countries and are very assimilationist. It is economically liberal (tax cuts, no minimum wage, limiting child benefits). Wilders seems to be the heir to the heritage of the late Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigration (although socially liberal) politician whose paty (LPF) had a rapid rise (and fall, following his assasination). However, Wilders is much more radical than Fortuyn.

Lastly, the Party for the Animals (PvdD), an animal rights party, has two seats in the Lower House. The PvdD is the only animal rights party in the world with parliamentary representation.

The results of the last 2004 Euro election was:

CDA 24.43% (-2.51%) winning 7 seats (-2)
Labour 23.60% (+3.48%) winning 7 seats (+1)
VVD 13.20% (-6.49%) winning 4 seats (-2)
GroenLinks 7.39% (-4.46%) winning 2 seats (-2)
Europe Transparent 7.33% winning 2 seats
Socialist 6.97% (+1.93%) winning 2 seats (+1)
ChristianUnion/SGP 5.87% (-2.86%) winning 2 seats (-1)
D66 4.25% (-1.55%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Party for the Animals 3.22%

The Netherlands has already released progressive count results and as of now, the results are as follows:

CDA 20% winning 5 seats (-2)
PVV 16.9% winning 5 seats
Labour 12.2% winning 3 seats (-4)
D66 11.3% winning 3 seats (+2)
VVD 11.3% winning 3 seats (-1)
GroenLinks 8.8% winning 2 seats (nc)
Socialist 7.1% winning 2 seats (nc)
ChristianUnion/SGP 7% winning 2 seats (nc)
Party for the Animals 3.5%

Turnout is stable at 40% (39.26% in 2004).

A great night for the PVV, an horrible night for the governing parties (CDA and PvdA, less so for CU). The Socialists have also fallen about 10% since they won a surprising 16% in the 2006 elections. And the D66 is now in an upswing period, after years of near death (which come when D66 joins government coalitions).

For fun, results in Amsterdam:

Amsterdam: D66 21.2%, GL 20%, Labour 14.7%, PVV 12.7%, VVD 9.2%, SP 8%, Animals 5.3%, CDA 4.9%

This is the first post in a very, very long and slow series on the European election results. And this is probably not the last you hear of the Netherlands.

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