Category Archives: Netherlands
I am unfortunately unable to blog at all myself while in Colombia, but I am very fortunate to have received this fantastic guest post on last month’s provincial elections in the Netherlands from an avid reader of this blog, ‘nimh’, who blogs at observationalism.com and tweets as @almodozo. Thanks for your work!
Time permitting, I’d like to do some blogging myself, notably a belated look at last month’s French departmental elections, and other elections down the road in Canada and the UK. But I wouldn’t count on it!
Unprecedented fragmentation, a weakened government that will have to go in search for further allies to keep functioning, and a new record low for the Labour Party. Those were the main features of the outcome of last month’s provincial elections, on March 18, which determined not just the make-up of provincial legislatures but also the Dutch Senate.
Because of the continuing collapse of the Labour Party (Dutch acronym: PvdA), the results also constituted the worst performance for the left overall in provincial elections since 1994, while centrist parties — the Democrats ’66, a party for the elderly and various regional lists — did well.
Pacifying the Senate: Why provincial elections are important
Provincial elections don’t make for the most popular ballot in the Netherlands. Turnout in the last national elections was 74.6%; in last year’s municipal elections it was 54.0%; but in these provincial elections just 47.8% of voters cast their ballot. Only the European elections are less popular — last year turnout in those was 37.3%. It’s not that the issues provincial legislatures deal with are unimportant: especially in a densely populated, waterlogged environment like the Netherlands, their decisive influence on urban planning, environmental protection, energy policy, transport and water management is crucial; but admittedly not particularly exciting. The largely consensual policy making processes at provincial level also preclude the kind of heated ideological antagonisms that will bring out the troops. But there is another reason why the provincial elections are very important — especially so right now.
That’s because the provincial legislatures in turn elect the members of the national Senate (“Eerste Kamer”). The Senate’s role is to scrutinize laws adopted in the main chamber of parliament (“Tweede Kamer”) before they are implemented, and although it doesn’t reject laws often, when it does it tends to cause a ruckus. More than one government has been brought to the edge of collapse when a key piece of legislation stranded in the Senate.
The make-up of the Senate is particularly salient right now. The current government, a coalition of the business- and market-friendly liberals of the VVD and the center-left Labour Party, does not have a majority in the Senate; their parties control just 30 of 75 seats. From the start, major parts of the government coalition agreement were shot down by the Senate, for example expansive pension reforms and a far-reaching plan to introduce income-dependent health care insurance premiums.
To avoid running into one crisis after another, the government parties conducted regular talks with opposition parties, and there are plenty of them. A total of twelve parties are represented in the Senate, and the two government parties eventually arrived at a formal deal with three opposition parties (the so-called “C3”). These three — the centrist Democrats 66 (D66) and two small socially conservative protestant parties, the Christian Union and the SGP — provide “constructive” support in the Senate for the coalition’s extensive labour market, education and health care reforms and the deep budget cuts it pursues in the name of austerity. Having them on board creates a majority of exactly one: 38 to 37 seats.
When relying on such a narrow margin, it’s no surprise that things fall apart ever so often. A government proposal to cut pensions for elderly people who move in with their children was shot down by the small christian parties. A housing law that will significantly raise rents for many people almost stranded when one rebellious Labour Senator who threatened to vote against was only assuaged in time for a midnight vote. The government and “constructive opposition” parties therefore looked with trepidation to these new provincial elections, which were set to change the numbers once more. Polling had long made it clear that the two government parties would suffer heavy losses. But would the C3 parties — in particular D66 — expand their support sufficiently to compensate for those losses and secure a continued razor-edge margin in the Senate?
Because of the complex indirect election of the Senate, that question remains open; only in May will the newly inaugurated provincial legislators elect the new Senators. But it’s not looking good for the government and its partners. The five parties by themselves are not projected to get over 36 Senate seats. Even though a motley collection of regional interest parties are busily being recruited to help elect government-friendly Senators, the election result makes it almost certain that the government will have to seek agreements with further opposition parties, for example the Christian-Democratic Appeal (CDA) or the Green Left, to pass any further contentious policies. The traditional election night debate, in which the leaders of the main parties sit around a table in the TV studio to collectively evaluate the election results — a Dutch oddity, perhaps — revolved entirely around this question: who would join with whom at what price?
Bewildering fragmentation cloaks a right-ward shift
Before we get to that, though, let’s back up the truck. What does Dutch politics look like?
Most of all, the election result was marked by an unprecedented fragmentation of the political party landscape. Not a single party received over 16% of the vote. Never before was the largest party this small.
Detailed overall results of the provincial elections. Source: Sum of official results by province.
In the end, Prime Minister Rutte’s VVD succeeded in edging out the oppositional CDA, but only just, by 15.9% to 14.7%. At one moment on election night, when it seemed the CDA was slightly ahead, Rutte somewhat cheekily remarked that “there’s no country in the world where the largest party is so small”. That must at least be close to true. The only equivalent I can think of in recent European elections was when elections for the Polish Sejm in 1991 saw no party get more than 12% of the vote, but then the Sejm had a tradition to uphold. The Economist wittily headlined its report on the elections “Dutch voters punish their two governing parties by voting for the 10 other ones”. There is something to that: other than Labour and the VVD, the only party to lose ground since the last provincial elections was the Green Left. Everyone else enjoyed gains.
This somewhat bewildering fragmentation in election results is fairly new. The Dutch parliament always lent itself well to the representation of small parties, since there is no electoral threshold and MPs are elected on national lists rather than in individual constituencies. A seat is secured by getting as little as 0.67% of the national vote. There has been a corresponding multitude of parliamentary parties. But only a few of them stood out: the christian-democratic party (at least since three christian parties merged in the mid-1970s), the Labour Party, and the VVD, as main liberal party.
When I grew up, people voted overwhelmingly for one of those three parties. D66 existed but was mostly a minor party which enjojyed occasional surges, and any other parties that got parliamentary representation were colloquially grouped together as “the small left” or “the small right”. In 1981, the three main parties occupied 68 of the 75 Senate seats. In the past four years they had 41. Now they’re set to get 33.
The Economist argued, however, that this fragmented landscape masks a fair amount of ideological stability:
The Dutch case is especially confusing because, while voters have turned against the government, they have not actually turned to the right or left. Since 2012 the Netherlands has been ruled by a grand coalition of the centre-right Liberals and the centre-left Labour Party. [..] Because the government is centrist, opposition to its policies has scattered voters in every direction.
I’m not too sure about this; I think the results of these elections indicated an actual ideological shift as well — to the right. At the same time, when looking at the broader evolution of the political landcape over the past several election cycles, they at least confirmed how centrifugal forces have pulled voters away from the mainstream, centrist parties, but that will come up further down in this post. First, let’s focus on the evidence of a right-ward shift.
When Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer boasted on election night that his party was “now definitely the largest on the left,” that may have been true, but that still only made it the fifth-largest party, behind not just the VVD and Christian-Democrats, but also D66 and the far-right Freedom Party. The Labour Party’s Lodewijk Asscher pointed out that “if you see the state of the left in the Netherlands now, there’s no reason for cheers,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Together, the Socialists, Labour, the Green Left, the Party for the Animals (yes, there is a Party for the Animals, and it has seats in parliament) and a few tiny left-wing parties that are only active regionally pooled just under 31% of the vote. That’s the lowest such share in provincial elections since 1995, and lower than any national election result since 2002, which was sui generis.
For the Labour Party, specifically, this was a horrendous election result. The 10.1% of the vote it managed to pull (which, hard to believe as it is, meant actually slightly outperforming the polls) was the smallest share of the vote it has ever gotten in provincial elections. Just like last year’s municipal elections saw the party get the worst result it had ever gotten in those. The party’s fall from grace has been a long time in coming, as the party has been on a trendline of decline since the mid-1980s when it still habitually got a third of the votes. At the same time it still arrived quite suddenly, as the party was momentarily resurgent in national elections just three years ago, when it rebounded to 25% of the vote.
Nothing much seems to have changed since I wrote about the party’s tactical dilemma last year, after the municipal elections:
The Labour Party is in an impossible strategic situation: it suffers an exodus of voters to both D66 and the [Socialist Party (SP)], but those voters, demographically, are each other’s opposites and are leaving the Labour Party for opposite reasons. The voters who have headed, and keep heading, to the SP feel that the Labour Party has lost its left-wing soul. They tend to be gloomy about the country’s economy as well as their own financial perspectives, look to the government to shore up the social protections of the welfare state, and be angry that the Labour Party is instead “selling out” to the VVD, to big business, to the EU. But the voters which are deserting the party for D66 are fairly optimistic about the economy and their own perspective, warmly favour EU integration, and might only be afraid of the country “missing the boat” by not demonstrating enough dynamism and adaptability. [..] The net result is that any move the Labour Party might make to win back the voters on one side will likely just further increase its bleeding on the other side.
One could argue that the left, and the Labour Party in particular, has been here before. The 1994 (national) and 1991 (provincial) elections didn’t go any better for them, as the chart above shows. But there are two differences between then and now:
- Like now, the weak result for the left in 1991 and 1994 were coupled with particularly strong results for D66 (about 15.5% then, 12.5% now). But today’s D66 is quite a different party from what it was like back then. Traditionally, D66 is a center-left party of social liberals, which strongly emphasized good governance and democratic reforms like introducing referenda, an elected Prime Minister, elected mayors, and a district-based electoral system. The party was instrumental in pushing through major legislative changes that better reflected the country’s secular character, for example on gay marriage and euthanasia but also Sunday shopping. In terms of socio-economic policy, it distanced itself from what it saw as social-democracy’s overly dirigistic tendencies, but generally steered a left-liberal course comparable to, for example, that of Britain’s Liberals and SDP. But the party has shifted rightward significantly over the past fifteen years, notably propping up a right-wing government in 2003–2006. It now presents itself primarily as a champion of (neoliberal) economic reforms.
- Labour is a different party from what it used to be as well. Back when its then-leader Wim Kok made a push to de-ideologize Labour in the early 1990s it may not have pleased the more left-wing parts of his party, but the “purple” governments he lead between 1994 and 2002 coupled tax cuts as gifts to the right with public investments and employment programs to please the left. Now there is a again a left-right government, but they’re divvying up costs rather than spending, which makes for altogether harsher policies. On election night, Labour Party leader Diederik Samson defensively but proudly declared that this government has implemented the deepest set of budget cuts of any government so far.
As a result, even when compared to the equally dismal electoral results of the left in the early 1990s, the substance of political discourse and policy has shifted to the right.
Doing the rounds: an overview of each party’s performance
Prime Minister Rutte comforted his party by remarking that its losses had been smaller than feared. The result “looks wonderful when you compare it with a year ago,” he said. Which seems a bit overstated: in the European elections last May and the local elections last March, the VVD received 12% of the vote; now it got 16%. The extremely low turnout in those European elections (37%) and the high share of the vote taken by local parties in the municipal elections (28%) also made them ill-suited for comparative purposes. For what it’s worth, a year ago the VVD was polling at 13–17% of the vote; this year, just weeks before the elections, the VVD hit something of a low in the opinion polls of — depending which pollster you trust — 11–17%. The end result looks only slightly favorable in that context; it is pretty much in line with where the party has been polling for the last year and a half.
The proportion between polls and election result was roughly the same for the Labour Party. For all the detail about just how horrible its result was, at least it leaned toward the upper end of the range (7–11%) foreseeen by the polls for the past year or so.
The christian-democratic CDA and its leader, Sybrand Buma, were oddly triumphant about their election result (14.7%). Sure, it’s a fair way back up from the disastrous 8.5% of the vote the party pulled in the national elections of 2012 — easily its worst election result ever. But it’s only six-tenth of a percentage point better than the last provincial elections, four years ago — and that had been the party’s worst provincial election result since it was founded in the 1970s. It was also worse than its result in last year’s European elections, if only by a sliver, and barely better than its result in last year’s local elections, when it got 14.4% of the vote even as local parties took over a quarter of the total vote. It seems like a score of around 15% might be the new normal for the party right now — and considering that the CDA or one or more of its predecessor parties were represented in the national government for an unbroken run of 76 years (1918–1994), that’s really not very impressive.
While touting his party’s strong performance, Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders did express some disappointment that it didn’t end up first, as had seemed possible for a while. For four-five months ahead of the provincial elections, the party had been leading the pack in two of the three national election polls. It had always been clear that this national polling would not necessarily translate into an equivalent result in provincial elections though, given the lower turnout. Moreover, the party’s standing had noticably slipped during the election campaign, as the two governing parties recovered slightly and the Socialist Party made some minor gains.
In the end, the Freedom Party almost exactly replicated its performance in the last provincial elections, again getting 12% of the vote. One aspect of this result which wasn’t mentioned much in the media coverage, however, is that this helped the party seats-wise. After all, it was just last year that around one in six Freedom Party provincial legislators abandoned the party after Wilders’ ill-advised remarks at the party’s rally on the night of the municipal elections, when he made his followers chant that they wanted “fewer, fewer” Moroccans in the country.
What must have smarted though was that the party ended up finishing fourth, behind the Democrats ‘66, whose leader Alexander Pechtold is a frequent and fierce critic of Wilders. With this result D66 successfully followed up on last year’s results, when it already became the third-largest party nationwide in municipal politics. It was the party’s best result in provincial or national elections since 1994 — only in last year’s European elections did it do even better. That’s an impressive achievement especially since, in the interim, the party had dropped to a dismal 2.0% of the vote in the 2006 national elections. I can’t find nationwide election results for the 1970 and 1982 local elections, but this result seems to be the party’s fourth-best ever, in any kind of elections.
The Socialist Party (SP) performed well — certainly better than in last year’s municipal elections, when it also made significant gains in the number of seats it won but its nationwide share of the vote was limited to 6.6%. This time it won 11.7% of the vote, gaining two percentage points when compared to the national elections of 2012 and 1.5% compared to the previous provincial elections. A healthy score, no doubt — its second best ever in provincial elections. And yet one can’t help wondering if it also doesn’t represent a lost opportunity. The party’s main rival, the Labour Party, collapsed, losing a whopping 15% or so from its result less than three years ago — and yet the SP improved on its own score by a mere fraction of that amount. It’s not that it didn’t win a good amount of votes from Labour, it’s that D66 and the Green Left shared equally in those spoils, and many of the SP’s own voters from 2012 abstained this time (see below). Moreover, according to data by Maurice de Hond, about a third of the previous SP voters who did turn out scattered their votes across a range of other parties this time — primarily the Freedom Party, the Party for the Animals, regional parties and, perhaps surprisingly, the christian-democrats.
The small christian parties, the Christian Union and the SGP, performed strongly as always in low-turnout elections, thanks to their disciplined electorate. In the past four provincial elections, they pooled 6–9% of the vote, and this year’s score (7.5%) falls right in the middle of that range. In national elections, however, they will doubtlessly drop back to their usual, pooled 5–6% of the vote.
The result of the Green Left was, just like last year, ambiguous. The 5.4% of the vote it received constitutes something of a resurrection for a party that collapsed so completely in the 2012 elections, getting just 2.3% of the vote, that its obituaries were already being written. But it’s still the party’s worst result in provincial elections since 1994, down a percentage point compared to the last provincial elections, and not a tenth of a percentage point better than its score in last year’s municipal elections, despite the fact that local and regional parties took a much larger chunk of the vote then.
Two pollsters published contradictory numbers about where the 2012 Labour Party voters went this time. On election night, public television cited exit poll results from Ipsos suggesting that, of those who switched votes, 34% went to the GreenLeft, 29% to the SP, and 20% to D66, but unfortunately those data don’t seem to be available online. Maurice de Hond’s polling data shows quite a different picture: of all 2012 Labour voters who voted again now, 36% stuck with their party, 19% went to the SP, 9% to D66, and just 8% to the Green Left.
In general, Ipsos polling data which is available online suggest that the Freedom Party and the Labour party suffered most from abstention, which is not unusual, but the VVD suffered particularly from a failure to turn out its electorate as well, which is less common. In addition, the Labour party saw by far the highest rate of voters coming out to vote but only to switch to another party. As always, the orthodox protestant SGP suffered least from both — but then there’s a reason why the party has had either 2 or 3 seats in parliament since 1925.
What now, little lion land?
At the traditional election night debate with the party leaders, each one of them of course hurried to emphasize the positive. As always, winners gloated over their gains, those who didn’t win or lose any particularly great amount stressed how they’d recovered from prior losses, and those who clearly lost asserted that the losses hadn’t been as bad as feared and ground had been recovered during the campaign, even as they contritely admitted that things should have gone better.
But what struck me most was that none of the party leaders other than the SP’s Emile Roemer (the Freedom Party’s Geert Wilders was absent) called for a radical change of course. The government parties regretted not having been able to persuade enough voters, but insisted that they had done what was necessary, even when it was not popular, and there was no alternative to forging ahead. The constructive opposition insisted on staying the course and only making changes to the extent that further speed and determination were needed in the economic reforms. If anything, we’d like to move policies further to the right, the SGP leader said. Work on tax reforms must start immediately, D66 leader Pechtold demanded, but should not threaten balanced budgets. Which means, though he left it unmentioned, that those tax cuts will have to be offset by further budget cuts (something the Labour Party election campaign at least called them out on).
The leaders of opposition parties CDA and Green Left also demanded policy changes, of course, but they, too, highlighted that they were ready to help think through the necessary reforms, to support constructive policies, to take responsibility, and so forth. All in all, in addition to seeming near-collectively wedded to some degree of neoliberal policy as a self-evident necessity, the leaders of opposition and government parties alike seemed to get along fine, in a discussion characterized by friendly banter and a collective attitude along the lines of “we’re in this together and we’ll just have to work this out together”. When there was a bit of occasional showboating, all present seemed to be aware it wasn’t to be taken literally — like when opposition leaders vowed to not take part any back room talks and Prime Minister Rutte reminded them that they already took part in regular behind-the-scenes discussions.
All of this is very much a reflection of the norms and conventions of Dutch political culture. Nevertheless, it is also revealing about the political perspectives of the parties involved. D66 leader Pechtold is on record, after all, as calling his party “his Majesty’s most loyal opposition”. The Economist would argue that this behavior is merely a reflection of the fact that voters sent a fairly ambiguous message:
Much of the voters’ frustration stems from austerity measures the government has enacted over the past two years, such as cuts in health benefits and hikes in excise taxes. But the elections have actually strengthened the political forces demanding austerity. Both D66 and the Christian Democrats insist that the government commit in advance to new deficit-cutting measures to balance out any tax cuts.
This seems a little too convenient though. D66 is riding high, and the CDA made gains at least compared to the last national elections. But the christian-democrats are still at a near-historic low; the Labour Party is at an all-time historic low; the VVD got its worst result in provincial elections in almost 25 years; and the small christian parties got around the same level of support they always get. The mainstream parties, having over time converged onto a consensual commitment to austerity, are collectively doing worse than at any time in Dutch political history. Together, VVD + Labour + CDA + D66 + the small christian parties pooled just over 60% of the vote, an all-time low. In 2012, it was 73%; in 2003 it was 82%; and in 1989 it was 94%.
The parties that have most vocally opposed the government’s austerity policies, i.e. the far-left Socialist Party, the far-right Freedom Party, the Party for the Animals and the senior-interest party 50Plus, may individually have increased their vote by just two percentage points compared to 2012, but each of them did gain 2 points, meaning that together they pooled 30% of the vote compared with 24% two years ago — and 17% at the provincial elections of 2007, before the global economic crisis. The Dutch electorate is increasingly alienated from the mainstream political discourse, and yet there was little hint of a crisis at the party leaders debate.
Aside from the Socialist Party’s Roemer, who accused the government of having failed and leaving many people struggling to get by, the only party leader to express any fundamental disagreement was Marianne Thieme from the Party for the Animals. She pleaded for an economic reorientation away from the logic of growth, and remarked that the substantive differences between all the other parties had come to seem small. But she was gently chided by the Christian Union’s Arie Slob: if ideological differences seemed small right now, he told her, it was because with over 600 thousand unemployed “we’ll just have to set aside our differences”. Of course, Thieme, Roemer and maybe even Wilders would probably argue that if the course which the country has been on has lead to over 600 thousand unemployed, maybe the logical response might not necessarily be for all parties to join in and lend a helping hand, but rather to call for a drastic break and start pulling a different way altogether.
There is at least one Labour politician who also feels that way: Adri Duivesteijn, the Senator who almost brought the government down over its housing policy package. The party’s election result should “at least be reason to take another look at yourself and ask yourself whether it is sensible to continue on the line we have followed over the past two years.” You have to wonder, he added, “if it’s still the Labour Party that’s standing there, or just a few people who have tasked themselves with a mission.”
Duivesteijn has little to lose in staking out this position: he has been diagnosed with prostrate cancer at an advanced stage, and will be retiring in May. But at least Labour’s former voters agree with him. When looking at a longer-term perspective than just the gains and losses compared to the last elections, polling data released this week by Maurice de Hond suggested that Labour has lost a lot more ground among working class voters who feel resentful about the dismantling of the welfare state than among the confident middle class voters who are currently gravitating towards D66. It has also lost them more thoroughly.
Dividing up the Dutch electorate between people who would now vote, or at least consider voting, Labour (17%); people who have at some point in the past voted Labour but would not consider it anymore now (24%); and those who never voted Labour and wouldn’t now (59%), the poll found large differences between the former two groups. Those who abandoned Labour are much more likely to have lower education levels: 41% of this group has only lower education, versus 15% of those who’d still consider voting Labour. An overwhelming majority of them (80% or more) agrees with the statements “I don’t know what the Labour Party stands for anymore”, “The Labour Party is betraying its ideals” and “the Labour Party is abandoning the weakest in society”. Of those who still vote, 32% of them now vote SP and 15% for the Freedom Party. And none of the three alternative Labour Party leaders whom de Hond asked about would bring more than 13% of them back.
Meanwhile, the immediate aftermath of the provincial elections has seen some distinct shifts in the polls. The VVD has been making the most gains since it came first in the elections — everyone likes a winner — but D66 has had to yield some ground. The Freedom Party has been losing support, but the Socialists have gained some.
At provincial level, not a whole lot is expected to change in government. As is the case with many municipal governments, the “executive councils” that serve as provincial governments tend to consist of wide-ranging coalitions that include most or even all the major parties. The VVD was part of 11 of the 12 provincial executives in the last four years, and the CDA was represented in 10 of the 12. That’s how you can have provincial governments that include both the VVD and the Green Left (in Utrecht) or both the VVD and the Socialist Party (in South-Holland and North-Brabant). As a result, ideological contrasts are downplayed — much more so, still, than in national politics. In the past four years only Overijssel had an executive with only right-of-center parties (VVD, CDA and the small christian parties).
Judging on early negotiation results, the main difference in the upcoming period will be that Labour will be represented in fewer provincial governments, and the SP in more. The Socialists, so far included in just two of them, will now be part of six. Labour, still represented in eleven of the twelve provincial governments in 2003, are now down to five.
In the northern province of Friesland it will be the first time since 1946 that Labour will not be included in the provincial executive. The VVD, on the other hand, despite its losses, will remain included in 11 provinces, and the christian-democrats even look set to be part in all 12. D66 are likely to take part in eight.
The occasional inclusion of even parties as far left or right as the Socialists or the Freedom Party in provincial government also leads to some idiosyncrasies in how provincial parties position themselves — something which, due to the low profile of provincial politics, will likely go unnoticed by their own voters. If you scrutinize a voter test for the province of South-Holland, for example, you will find that the Socialist Party there stakes out positions to the right of both the Green Left and the Labour Party on 8 of the 30 questions, ranging from budget cuts to the environment and asylum-seekers. Especially the first seems pretty atypical, but might well have to do with the party’s inclusion in provincial government there.
Some provincial politicians choose instead to avoid taking a public position on anything much altogether. In Gelderland there was a provincial legislator from the Freedom Party who managed to not utter a single word for the full four years he served — a record, apparently. Perhaps he was following the example of a municipal councilor in the same province back in the 1990s. Henny Selhorst, serving as a councilor for the more radically far-right (and misleadingly named) Centre Democrats in Arnhem, managed to utter a full seven words during the four years of his term, six of which he spoke during the opening session. Selhorst had something of an excuse at least, though, since he spent a total of two of those four years in prison, for two succesive arrests over dealing hard drugs.
Age, income and education
Class cleavages may not determine election outcomes as much as they once did, but they still played an important role, voting patterns by income and education reveal. Both exit poll data by Ipsos and separate polling data by Maurice de Hond confirmed that the VVD, D66 and Green Left do particularly well among those with higher education, and VVD and D66 (but not the Green Left) also do particularly well among higher income voters. Vice versa, the Freedom Party and the Socialist party did especially well among lower education voters and among voters with lower incomes.
Because of the fragmentation of the vote, no party holds much of a dominion over a specific income or education group. Even the VVD’s dominance among upper income voters isn’t what it used to be: it received about a quarter to a third of those voters, experiencing marked competition from D66 and the Christian-Democrats.
Patterns become a little more clear, however, when we group the multitude of competing parties in a few broad categories. The traditionally obvious route is to identify left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties. This is what the data from de Hond looks like when grouping the vote by income category between left, right and center:
Data for this (and the following) charts are from polling by Maurice de Hond
For this chart, I’ve grouped the Socialist Party, the Green Left, the Party for the Animals and the Labour Party together as left-wing — based on history as much as policy, since Labour might not be currently implementing left-wing policies in government but is nevertheless intrinsically identified with the left-of-center camp. The centrist category encompasses D66, 50Plus and the regional parties (which of course vary in ideological orientation, but average out in the center). The right covers the VVD, CDA, Freedom Party and the small christian parties. (It’s become fairly accepted to classify the Christian Union as centrist rather than right-wing, despite its socially conservative positions, but since the SGP and Christian Union ran common lists in some provinces it’s impractical to divide up their vote between the two categories.)
The result is obvious enough: the left does better the lower the income group, the right does better the higher the incomes. Note, though, that even among lower income voters the left is barely ahead.
Support for the right among lower income voters, however, is quite different in nature from that among the upper income electorate. 32% of upper income voters opted for the VVD, according to de Hond’s poll, and just 6% for the Freedom Party. The proportions among lower income voters were somewhat inverted: a fairly modest 14% for the Freedom Party, but just 7% for the VVD. There are similar contradictions among the left — the Socialist overwhelmingly relies on lower income groups (getting 20% of the lower income vote and just 3% of the upper income vote), but support for the Labour Party and the Party for the Animals is more evenly spread.
Another categorisation might therefore be useful. This one, for example:
This breakdown, which tentatively groups together the Freedom Party, the Socialist Party, the Party for the Animals and 50Plus as anti-system parties of sorts, presents an alternative contrast of where the dividing lines by class lie. Upper income groups feel comfortable with what one could call the ruling policy consensus and vote disproportionately for the liberal parties, and more broadly with parties on the center-right. The sentiment starts tipping among lower middle income voters, whose vote is as likely to go to the Freedom Party (14%) or Socialist Party (13%) as to the VVD or CDA (13% each). The alienation from mainstream politics is pitched more sharply among lower income voters, among whom the Socialists rank first and the Freedom Party second.
A similar breakdown by education mostly shows the same contrast. One wrinkle is the role of the center-left parties (Labour and the Green Left). Both of those parties appeal most to voters with low incomes, but also most to those with higher education.
If these contrasts by income and education seem stark, they weren’t actually at their most pointed. In similar polling by de Hond a little over a year ago, the Freedom Party and Socialist Party alone already pooled a massive 56% of lower education voters versus just 16% of higher education voters. Vice versa, the liberal parties VVD and D66 then pooled an identically massive 56% of higher income voters, versus just 12% of lower income voters. That’s a serious class divide, which I would argue places a time bomb of sorts under the Dutch governance model if it is left to fester.
Breakdowns by age group are also interesting — as much for the patterns that don’t appear as for the ones that do. Remarkably, breaking down the vote for left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties, per de Hond’s data, shows little variation by age group at all:
That’s a striking result in itself, especially since it has definitely not always been like that. It poses some uncomfortable questions especially for the left, which has long relied on young voters to bolster its successive challenges to the status quo.
The Labour Party’s electorate in particular has long been aging, and the party is now actually strongest among those aged 65 and up, according to both the Ipsos and de Hond data. But the Socialist Party’s appeal to the youth is similarly lacking. Much like the Freedom Party, it seems to rely largely on middle-aged voters, showing particular strength among those aged 45–64.
In part, this could be a reflection of how insecure people in that age group, in particular, feel about the state of the economy and the country’s social services. Unlike young people, they might be especially aware of how dependent they will be on the latter soon enough, and unlike young people, those in that age group who are unemployed, underemployed, or fearful of being either will have less confidence about future growth and opportunities solving it all.
Regrouping the political categories might seem to bolster this theory. The liberal parties are well over-represented in the youngest age groups, while the vote for the anti-system parties (for lack of a better label) peaks in the age group approaching retirement. This too should constitute a warning sign for the left: in stark contrast with countries like Spain and Greece where the youth has been spearheading leftist revolts against right-wing economic policies, in the Netherlands the generation that grew up with austerity seems to feel pretty comfortable with it. A critic might speculate that this is a reflection of how today’s youth has been told by politicians, pundits and the press alike that there is no alternative for as long as they can remember.
In fact, the patterns in these breakdowns by age could also be interpreted as a reflection of the age in which voters experienced their formative years. A fascinating data visualization by the New York Times last year chronicled the voting behavior of each generation of white U.S. voters as they aged, showing a surprising continuity in preferences that seem to have solidified at an early age. “Events at age 18 are about three times as powerful as those at age 40,” the Times’ model suggested. Thus, “by the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, people born in the early 1940s had accumulated pro-Republican sentiment that would last their entire lifetimes” and “Childhoods and formative years under Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon left [baby boomers] relatively pro-Democratic”.
Applying that theory to the Dutch data, it’s interesting that the polling numbers by de Hond don’t just show support for the Socialists peaking among 45–64 year olds, they also show the Party for the Animals doing best among 55–65 year olds — and while the Green Left generally gets weaker the older voters are, there’s a distinct uptick in its support among that same 55–65 age group. Similarly, the Ipsos data show the Socialists overperforming by far the most among 50–64 year olds. And Ipsos, too, shows the Green Left doing best among the youngest voters, but 50–64 year olds as the only other age group among which it overperforms. All of which would make some sense from the perspective of the New York Times piece. After all, these are the people who grew up in the 1970s, maybe early 1980s — and those are generally seen as the most left-wing years of Holland’s post-war history.
By the same count, of course, this would mean that the current crop of 18–35 year olds is set to retain an inclination towards liberal parties for most of their life, and the relative lack of enthusiasm of voters under 45 for socialist/social-democratic parties isn’t going to change significantly anymore either as they grow old.
The electoral map is as fragmented, but also as revealing, as the overall result. As colorful as the whole is, the west of the country is a sea of liberal blue; many rural areas in south, east and west remain christian-democratic green; and there is a notable dearth of socialist/social-democratic red.
The centrist D66 scored a hat-trick, coming first in three of the four main cities (Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht), just like it did in last year’s municipal elections. It also came out on top in the university cities Leiden and Delft, the medium-sized cities of Haarlem, Gouda and Amersfoort, and the commuter town Culemborg. But the party’s appeal remains firmly rooted in the cities of the West, or what the Dutch call the Randstad.
In Rotterdam, the country’s second-largest city and the world’s third-largest port, first place went to the Freedom Party (orange on the map). The vote was very fragmented though, with the Freedom Party getting 17% of the vote. Astoundingly, Labour ended up back in fifth, with a mere 12% — an even worse result than in last year’s local elections. Keep in mind: in 1977 the Labour Party still received 55% of the city’s vote.
Things are only marginally better for the party in Amsterdam. While at least securing second place (behind D66), the Labour Party still only received 15% of the vote. Last year’s municipal elections already marked the first time since World War II that Labour did not emerge as the largest party in the city, getting just 18% of the vote. The social-democrats used to get some 40% of the vote here.
Its not just the Labour Party which is on the defense in the country’s capital; it’s the left as a whole. In the national elections of 2006, parties to the left of D66 pulled a whopping 65% of the vote — an almost Berlin-like score. This time the counter stopped just below the 50% mark. That still made for the second-highest number in the Netherlands (behind Nijmegen), and the left fared a lot worse in the other main cities: 42% in Utrecht, 37% in Rotterdam and 33% in The Hague.
Compared with the provincial elections four years ago, the Labour Party lost ground in every single municipality of the country, the Volkskrant reported. Its collapse was the most comprehensive in the party’s traditional heartland in the Northeast. Of the ten municipalities where its losses where heaviest, nine were in the eastern half of the province of Groningen. In Pekela, Menterwolde and Veendam, the party’s losses from the previous provincial elections exceeded 19%, in the former two reducing the party’s vote to a third or less of its size. In Menterwolde Labour still got 49% of the vote in the national elections of 1998. Now, it received 8.5%, well behind the Socialists (22%), and also behind a provincial interest party and the Freedom Party (which got 12%). In the province of Groningen as a whole, it was the first time since WWII that Labour failed to emerge as largest party in provincial elections.
All of this was a repeat of last year’s patterns, when six of the seven municipalities where the party lost most were in the province of Groningen. This time, however, there was a specific additional cause for its disproportional losses there, one which highly benefited the regional interest parties which ended up pooling over 12% of the vote in the province: earthquakes. Yes, in the Netherlands. Man-induced — or should that be greed-induced? — earthquakes: it’s a long story, and it involves billions of gas revenues flowing to the national Treasury and the locals being stuck with collapsing buildings. Check out this neat visualization too.
The only municipality where a party got over 50% of the vote was Tubbergen, where the christian-democratic CDA received 56% of the vote. That’s still a far cry from 2003, though, when it was 80% — the Freedom Party and the VVD made some inroads in this rural and very catholic constituency. On the other end of the scale, the CDA had to make do with just 3.3% of the vote in Amsterdam, ranking eighth — with barely over half the votes received by the Party for the Animals. The Christian-Democrats didn’t rank first in any of the country’s twenty largest cities: Emmen (pop. 109 thousand) was the most populous town where it lead.
Curiously, that means that both of the top two parties performed relatively weakly in the country’s cities. When it comes to taking first places, at least, the VVD ‘scored’ only a few among the country’s top 20 cities, and nothing bigger than Breda (pop. 175 thousand) and Apeldoorn (pop. 156 thousand). (All such first places are purely symbolic, of course, since the Dutch electoral system does not have districts; legislators are elected through province- or nation-wide party lists.) The VVD more than compensated for this, though, by coloring most of the provinces of North-Holland, South-Holland and Utrecht blue.
I imagine its success in those provinces (especially North Holland, where Labour used to be strong in rural areas as well, and South-Holland, where the christian-democrats used to dominate the countryside) has a lot to do with sub- and exurbanization. Prototypical VVD ‘wins’ included Haarlemmermeer and Zoetermeer, once-rural municipalities that were turned into commuter towns since the 1970s/1980s.
Further rural communities in the West seem to have seen a fair amount of well-off urbanites move in, converting farmhouses and the like. Perhaps that helps explains how a place like Beemster took a surprise second place in the list of top VVD results, ahead of famously wealthy towns like Wassenaar, Blaricum and Rozendaal that have long been VVD bulwarks. This map of median disposable incomes by municipality in 2012 is helpful in that regard, showing that most of the countryside in between and around the four main cities now counts among the country’s most prosperous municipalities.
Below, I will mention how two villages in North Holland (Warder and Middelie) used to yield an 80%+ vote for the left, right after World War Two; now they belong to the municipality of Zeevang, right next to Beemster, and the VVD received 29% of the vote there. The two villages still exist, but in the national elections two years ago even gave 37% and 46% of their vote to the VVD. This bit of history, translated from the Dutch Wikipedia page, can’t be unrelated: “The increase in scale in agriculture resulted in many farms closing their business. Consequently only ten of the 80 full-time farming businesses that existed in 1945 still exist. The farmhouses that remained empty turned out to be popular objects for people from cities like Amsterdam and Haarlem to renovate into comfortable houses and a migration flow started from the cities to countryside villages like Warder”.
D66 on the other hand, as mentioned above, is by far the strongest in large and mid-sized cities. Outside such cities and away from the West, its popularity flags, and the only four municipalities where it took first place outside the Randstad were clustered around the university towns Nijmegen and Wageningen and the nearby town of Arnhem. In several cities away from the Randstad where D66 had still come out on top last year, it now had to relinquish this honor to the Socialists. All in all, the party received 17% of the vote in the centrally located province of Utrecht, but just 7% up in Frysia and down in Zeeland. The regions where it’s strongest happen to also be those where the population is youngest, growing at the fastest rate, and most highly educated.
If you were wondering what that range of grey municipalities in the map at the top of this section is, stretching from the southwest through to the shores of the IJsselmeer, that’s the Dutch Bible Belt.
In every election, some of the most geographically concentrated results come from the small calvinist State Reformed Party (SGP) and the other socially conservative protestant party, the Christian Union. The SGP, notably, only allowed women to become party members in 2006, and only made it possible for women to run for office on its lists last year — and both times, only in the face of judicial pressure from Dutch courts and the European Court of Human Rights.
Nationally, these two parties may have pooled 7.5% of the vote, but in some municipalities, they rule the roost. In the fishing village of Urk the two of them pooled 72% of the vote; in rural Staphorst 59%. There’s more info about these parties in my post about last year’s local elections.
A eagle-eyed observer may have already noticed in the map at the top of this section that something odd happened in a municipality down in the very south of the country, in the province of Limburg: the honor of ranking first was shared by the Socialist Party (SP) and the Freedom Party (PVV). That’s Maastricht (pop. 120 thousand). Of the some 91 thousand eligible voters there, less than 39 thousand showed up, and the SP and VVD both received exactly 6,284 of them. That turnout rate of 42.5% was low — as was turnout in the whole province of Limburg, at 45% — but it was far from the lowest. Rotterdam won that prize, with a turnout of 35.1%. It’s not altogether coincidental that two cities with low turnout also saw the Freedom Party do so well — alienation from the political system is reflected both ways.
Other Freedom Party ‘scalps’ among the 50 largest towns in the Netherlands were Almere, Zaanstad, Dordrecht, Nissewaard (i.e. Spijkenisse), Purmerend, Lelystad, Schiedam and Vlaardingen. In Nissewaard it received 24% of the vote; in all the others it received more votes than any other party, but less than 24%. All of these municipalities are located in the greater Amsterdam or Rotterdam areas, and most have at some point been the destination of ‘white flight’ from those cities. Some have become fairly multicultural themselves, in turn — according to StatLine, the electronic databank of Statistics Netherlands, the percentage non-Western population is 15–19% for most of these towns, but 27–29% in Almere and Schiedam. (In Amsterdam and Rotterdam themselves it’s 35–37%.)
The list of municipalities where the party received the highest percentage of the vote, however, looks quite different. The Freedom Party received 24–25% in three former mining communities in the southeast (Kerkrade, Landgraaf, Onderbanken) as well as Stein, also in Limburg. It got 26% of the vote in Edam-Volendam; its strength there lies in the fishing town of Volendam, where it received 32% of the vote, rather than in Edam (12%). Finally, it received 33% in the municipality of Rucphen, which has a long history of supporting right-wing populist forces whenever they appear. More precisely, it’s Sint Willibrord, traditionally a bricklayers and carpenters village, which does so, and these elections were no exception: in each of the three precincts there, the Freedom Party netted over 50% of the votes!
Onderbanken, Volendam, Sint Willibrord: these places are certainly not cauldrons of multiculturalism. While Kerkrade and Landgraaf include quite a few German residents, CBS statline pegs the percentage of non-Western population in all these municipalities at just 2–5%. Common denominators might instead be, to some extent, rather insular communities and a tradition of exclusion/resentment. But in addition to a couple of larger placed like Heerlen, Venlo and Sittard-Geleen, the top 20 Freedom Party results include plenty of further small-town municipalities which don’t quite have the unique profile of Volendam or Sint Willibrord: Brunssum, Steenbergen, Simpelveld, Roerdalen, Woensdrecht, Vaals, Beek … Many of those are in Limburg, and that province has consistently shown a strong ‘native son’ enthusiasm for Geert Wilders, who was born in Venlo. But not all of them are, and that doesn’t explain why, for example, the Freedom Party received some 30% of the vote in the village of Spijk, part of the municipality of Rijnwaarden.
There are barely any immigrants in Spijk, but “dissatisfaction with the traditional parties, a lack of [political] attention, the disappearance of social services, problems with pensions [were] all reasons why residents of Spijk voted for the Freedom Party,” a local newspaper explained when the party did equally well there four years ago. After citing prof. Pieter Winsemius about how the residents of many Dutch villages feel abandoned, it quoted a local to prove the point: “The young people are leaving because no new houses have been built for years,” all the shops have closed, the local football club has been disbanded, public transport doesn’t get to Spijk and there are too few streetlights along the bicycling path. Another voter added that “we have nothing against foreigners, but they have to behave. Just look at ‘Opsporing Verzocht’ [a popular TV show about crime], it’s all colored people.” You don’t need to actually know any immigrants to have an opinion about them.
The Socialist Party, in addition to its shared first place in Maastricht, came first in Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Enschede, Heerlen, Oss, Helmond, and Hengelo, as well as a range of smaller places. All of these except for Oss and Helmond have long been among the relatively major cities of the country — but not a single one of them is in the Randstad. They’re all out in the provinces, whether north, east or south.
Some of these cities boast or used to boast a major industry, like Philips in Eindhoven, or the textile industry of Hengelo and Enschede until it collapsed in the 1970s. Most of them have a strongly industrial tradition, actually: except for Maastricht, every one of them belonged to the 40 (out of over 1,000 then-existing) Dutch municipalities of 1930 where over 70% of the employed population was an industrial worker. All except for Groningen and Helmond belonged to the 28 Dutch towns which, in the same year, boasted at least one factory that employed over 1,000 workers.
That’s very much past tense, though: Maastricht, Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Enschede and Heerlen now actually belong to the bottom-fifth of Dutch municipalities regarding the percentage of blue-collar workers. Industrial employment and work in the trade and transport sector are mostly concentrated in small towns and rural areas nowadays. Instead, half of these cities (Maastricht, Groningen, Enschede, Heerlen) rank in the top fifth of municipalities when it comes to the share of government & health care employees; but Eindhoven, Helmond and Oss have a below-average share of those.
The full list of municipalities with the highest share of SP votes makes for an intriguing mix. The party received 32% of the vote in Boxmeer, the provincial hometown of party leader Emile Roemer, and 25–26.5% of the vote in neighbouring Cuijk and Gennep — each of which has fewer than 30 thousand inhabitants. But the Socialists also got a quarter of the vote in the above-mentioned Oss, its historic bulwark (pop. 80,000), and Heerlen (pop. 88,000), the city at the heart of Limburg’s former mining country; and two small municipalities (pop. <15,000) in eastern Groningen, up in the traditionally leftist northeastern corner of the country, Pekela and Bellingwedde. (Some of these places, like Oss, Cuijk and to a lesser extent Boxmeer, do still have a strongly blue-collar labour market.)
The Socialist Party’s roots in eastern Brabant go beyond Roemer’s personal background. Like I wrote last year, the SP was getting over 20% of the vote in Oss even when it was still a Maoist splinter with a national vote of just 0.3%. Its brand of local and neighborhood activism apparently fit well with the clientalist tradition of local Catholic politicking. Maybe it made it easier for voters to shake off the stern threats against voting for the “reds” by yesteryear’s priests, which had traditionally kept the Labour Party weak in the south. Comparing the 2012 elections map for the SP with that of catholicism in the Netherlands suggests a definite correlation.
But just like in last year’s local elections, the SP’s electoral map for the provincial elections shows it is more broadly developing an electorate in the peripheries, away from the bustling cities in the West with their multicultural populations and white-collar economies, expanding from its traditional base into more provincial cities and the economically ailing northeast.
How do these sometimes conflicting geographic patterns translate into the relative dominance of one or the other ideological current? The maps above investigate that question, and unsurprisingly find the christian parties dominant primarily in the (deeply protestant) Bible Belt, but also in the (deeply catholic) northeastern part of Overijssel. The liberal parties do best in the Randstad, though more so in its northern ‘wing’ (Amsterdam/Utrecht) than the southern ‘wing’ (Rotterdam/The Hague), as well as the leafier parts of the countryside in North-Brabant, Gelderland and Drenthe. The ‘red’ (socialist/social-democratic) parties still perform well in Amsterdam, but otherwise rely on provincial strengths in north, east and south. Broadening the scope of left-of-center politics somewhat and including the Green Left and the Party for the Animals changes that image somewhat and gives more prominence to major cities and especially university towns (e.g. Amsterdam, Utrecht, Nijmegen, Leiden, Wageningen).
It’s interesting especially to compare the current map of the left with what it looked in previous decades. Compare these maps of the sum results for left-wing parties in national elections 69 years ago, right after the war, and 33 years ago, in the early 1980s, with the one for these provincial elections:
There is a distinct shift in geographic focus over time. For some fourty years, up until the late fourties, left-wing parties would pool over 45% of the vote in the province of North-Holland; in 1946 it was the country’s most left-wing province. Its support there was not limited to the cities either; it extended into most small towns and villages, thanks in part perhaps to the prevalence of liberal protestant denominations. But the left’s relative strength in the province declined steadily until, in the late 1990s, it did barely better there than in the country overall. The province of South-Holland became ever more friendly territory, relative to the national average, from the 1920s through to the mid-1960s, but has been trending away from the left ever since, with no end in sight. In Groningen, however, the left had kept consistently overperforming by roughly the same large margin throughout the post-war era — which makes Labour’s massive losses there this year and last year, only partially offset by SP gains, stand out all the more.
On the flipside, in those parts of the country where the left did very weakly, or was barely present at all, in 1946 it has done much better from the 1970s onward.
The result of these countervailing trends is what stands out most of all in these maps, aside from the left’s general weakness in last month’s elections: the overall blurring of geographical patterns. The huge contrasts which existed between highs and lows in the results of 1946 became ever less pronounced.
Back in 1946, there were 73 municipalities where the Labour Party and the Communists pooled over 60% of the vote — and 151 of them where the vote for the two parties added up to less than a piddling 5% of the vote. There were even six (mostly tiny) municipalities where the cumulative result for the social-democrats and communists was over 80% of the vote, and not one of them was in Groningen: Middelie, Oudendijk, Jisp, Ammerstol, Warder, Idaarderadeel. Vice versa, there were four where they received less than half a percentage point (five votes at most): Beers; Vessem, Wintelre en Knegsel; Westerhoven and Zeeland. All of which were hamlets in the catholic south. Boxmeer, where the Socialist Party got its best result in the country last month, was just another staunchly catholic village back then, where the Catholic People’s Party (KVP) got 94% of the vote.
Because that’s how it was: the religious political camps had even more pronounced strongholds and no-go areas. This was especially the case with the KVP, which received over 90% of the vote in no fewer than 169 municipalities, but at the same time got less than 5% in a massive 339 municipalities. Similarly, the three protestant parties of the time (ARP, CHU and SGP) also managed to pool over 70% of the vote in 89 municipalities, while getting less than 5% in 285 of them.
Sometimes, sharp contrasts could be found even between neighboring municipalities. Finsterwolde may have given 56% of its vote to the communists (and another 24% to the Labour Party), the citizens of the neighboring villages of Midwolda and Oostwold didn’t feel the same way; in their municipality, the Communist Party got just 8%, while over 50% of the vote went to the protestant parties. In Middelie, North-Holland, the Labour Party may have gotten 86% of the vote (with the communists coming in second), but in neighbouring Edam-Volendam it was the KVP which got 66%, with Labour languishing at 17%. Contrasts between neighboring villages of different religions were even starker: in Voorhout, South-Holland, 84% voted for the KVP, but in Rijnsburg 88% voted for the protestant parties ARP (52%) or CHU (36%).
By 1982, the number of such extreme results was drastically reduced. The left, which by then consisted of a large Labour Party and five small parties to its left, got over 80% of the vote in just two municipalities: the communist bulwarks of Finsterwolde and Beerta, up in the country’s northeastern corner. At the same time, there was also just one municipality left where it polled less than 5% of the vote: Urk. Same with the christian parties: KVP, ARP and CHU had by then merged into the CDA, but there were only two municipalities where that new force received over 70% of the vote: Weerselo and Tubbergen.
This year, as mentioned, there was only one municipality where a party received even just over 50% of the vote by itself (Tubbergen, CDA). And there wasn’t a single municipality where the left, even when added up together, polled over 51% of the vote.
Some part of this flattening out of results is due to successive rounds of local government reorganizations, which created ever larger municipalities and served to blend out local political peculiarities (and I’ll get into an example of that below). The main chunk of it, however, is the result of secularization. The religious parties used to hold their respective community ‘pillars’ in a tight grip: if you were catholic, for example, you read the catholic newspaper, listened to the catholic radio station, went to the catholic sports club, married a fellow catholic, and certainly voted for the catholic party (which explains how pale the south is in the left-most map). The so-called ‘depillarization’ of the 1960s-70s lifted many of those barriers, allowing the left to expand into the south; but at the same time depillarization also rapidly eroded what had been the socialists’ own ‘pillar’, which had equally bound its community together with a ‘red’ TV and radio station and social-democratic trade unions, newspapers, sports clubs, hiking clubs and health insurance cooperatives.
A third cause of the evening out of geographic political contrasts, itself contributing to the depillarization as well, must have been a mix of domestic migration/mobility and an increase of scale in daily lives. As villages turned into suburbs, young people moved to the cities, retirees moved to the countryside, white working class residents moved out of the inner cities and immigrants moved into them, workers started commuting longer distances, and people became ever more reliant on mass media instead of local networks for their information (and arguably socialization), differences have blended out ever more. A global phenomenon, of course. But perhaps especially strong in a small, highly urbanized and largely trade and services-reliant country like the Netherlands?
Far left, far right: revisiting Oldambt
Finally, this is where I get to write about one of the most interesting details of Dutch political geography, namely that spot right in the very northeast of the country where the only municipalities used to be where communists were ever dominant in the Netherlands. And where they still held on, quixotically, like Asterix and Obelix in a remote corner of the Roman empire, even after 1989.
That year didn’t just mark the collapse of the Soviet empire, it was also the last year two small, stubbornly communist municipalities called Finsterwolde and Beerta existed as independent entities. The residents of the two villages had been voting communist ever since 1922, and had kept doing so locally even after they’d taken to voting Labour in national elections in the late 1970s. Beerta was the only Dutch municipality to ever have had a communist mayor. Vice versa, both Beerta (in 1934–35) and Finsterwolde (in 1951–53) once had their local government and municipal council disbanded by the Dutch state and replaced by a ‘government commissioner’. Communist strength here was rooted in conditions of extreme local inequality: the local ‘gentleman farmers’, as they were called, used to earn 40–50 times as much as the farm labourers who tilled their land.
In 1990, however, Finsterwolde and Beerta were to merge with Nieuweschans into a larger, new municipality called Reiderland (pop. 7,000 or so). That was expected to deal a blow to the communists’ dominance, especially given world events — not to mention the self-dissolution of the Dutch Communist Party, which merged into the Green Left. But it didn’t. The local diehards just created a New Communist Party (NCPN) and promptly won 50% of the vote in the new municipality’s elections in 1994.
That support rapidly melted away in subsequent years after all, however, to 36% in 1998 and 18% in 2006. So when Reiderland in its turn fell victim to municipal restructuring and was merged into a newly created entity called Oldambt (pop. 39,000), that was sure to sound the death knell for the communists once and for all. The new municipality was to be dominated by the town of Winschoten; and while the residents there were a pretty left-wing bunch too, it had little of the deep communist history of Finsterwolde or Beerta. In fact, the NCPN had tried to relaunch in Winschoten as well in 1994, and gotten just 4% of the vote.
And yet, once again, no death knell. In last year’s local elections, a grandly titled United Communist Party (which ran in only one other municipality in the country) doubled its number of seats and increased its vote share to an altogether decent 16.0%. They came in second only to the Socialist Party, which gives you an idea of how stubbornly leftist this area is. In the Finsterwolde and Beerta precincts, specifically, they got 33% of the vote.
This year, the United Communists were so bold as to run in the provincial elections, so did their luck keep up? Interestingly enough, it didn’t. Not just did the party fail to make any impression province-wide, getting just 0.5% of the vote, it did horribly even in Oldambt, with just 4.1% of the vote. Even at the precincts in Finsterwolde and Beerta it remained stuck under 10% and 8%, respectively. How come? Did the Socialists sweep the municipality?
This is where things take a curious turn. In my post last year about the local elections, I already recounted how the New Communist Party (NCPN) dropped the ball somewhat in the 2002 parliamentary elections — the year that Pim Fortuyn swept through the Dutch political landscape, and his anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-Islam party went from zero to 17% of the vote practically overnight, in an election that took place just days after his assassination. In general, the northern provinces weren’t anywhere near as taken with his brand of politics as the rest of the country— in none of the four northernmost provinces did the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) get over 12% of the vote. But there was an exception. That year, the NCPN had decided not to take part in the national elections, since it never made any mark in it anyway. Coincidentally or not, Reiderland promptly provided the best result for the LPF in the entire north.
As this chart suggests, there’s at least a good possibility that a majority of the communists’ local voters, with all their suspicion and resentment of economic and political elites and ‘the lords in the Hague’, had in fact bolted straight to the far right. The only other party that lost big that year was the Labour Party, and the only party that gained big was the LPF. I also imagine that the communists of Finsterwolde are not likely to disagree much with the Freedom Party voter from Spijk who responded to a local press story by saying that “there is one important reason to vote for the Freedom Party, and it’s got nothing to do with foreigners or Islam; namely to taunt the self-satisfied ‘elite’ so us ‘dumb citizens’ can look them in the arse!”
It seems like something similar might have happened this time, though it’s not entirely clear. The Freedom Party did not take part in the local elections last year, but it did take part now, and it received 11.6% of the vote in Oldambt. That was almost identical to its national score, but well above its score in the province of Groningen as a whole (8.0%). It was roughly in line, however, with what the party got in other municipalities in the eastern part of the province, which has been good to the Freedom Party in past elections as well. In fact, its best scores in the north came not in Oldambt but in neighbouring Pekela (18%), nearby Vlagtwedde (15%) and Emmen (15%), across the provincial border in Drenthe. And while the ‘united’ communists had recently expanded into Pekela, it wasn’t like there was a major chunk of communist voters in any of those places.
On the other hand, check out this side-by-side comparison of votes cast in the local elections in Oldambt last year and the provincial elections now. And then, specifically, the one for the Beerta and Finsterwolde precincts. In part, it seems to suggest that communist voters were more likely than most to stay home this time. But still. The fact that there’s only one major winner of votes and one major loser doesn’t prove that there was a direct transfer of votes from the United Communist Party to the Freedom Party, of course. But as they say, “Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.”
The next installment in our overview of the May 2014 EP elections in the European Union takes us to several small member-states but also the Netherlands.
Note to readers: I am aware of the terrible backlog, but covering the EP elections in 28 countries in detail takes a very long time. I will most likely cover, with significant delay, the results of recent/upcoming elections in Colombia (May 25-June 15), Ontario (June 12), Canadian federal by-elections (June 30), Indonesia (July 9), Slovenia (July 13) and additional elections which may have been missed. I still welcome any guest posts with open arms :) Thanks to all readers!
Turnout: 30.24% (-23.45%)
MEPs: 8 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR (votes for party lists, voters may add a ‘plus’ to candidates they like on the list and strike through candidates they don’t like; votes for candidates = party list votes – # of strikes through + # pluses; most popular candidates on the list are elected), 5% threshold (national constituency)
Unity (EPP) 46.19% (+11.36%) winning 4 seats (nc)
National Alliance (ECR) 14.25% (+3.99%) winning 1 seat (nc)
SDP’S’ (S&D) 13.04% (-6.53%) winning 1 seat (+1)
ZZS (EFD) 8.26% (+4.54%) winning 1 seat (+1)
LRS (G-EFA) 6.38% (-3.28%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Alternative (S&D) 3.73% (+3.73%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Latvijas Reģionu apvienība 2.49% (+2.49%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Latvian Development 2.12% (+2.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LSP (GUE/NGL) 1.54% (+1.54%) winning 0 seats (-1)
LSDSP (S&D) 0.33% (-3.46%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.89% winning 0 seats (-1)
Latvia’s ruling centre-right party, Unity, won a very large victory in an election largely marked by very low turnout (30.2%). Latvian politics since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 have been highly unstable, and, in recent years, marred by rising voter apathy or cynicism due to difficult economic conditions and the widespread perception that Latvian politics are controlled by corrupt oligarchs. Latvian politics – more so than in Estonia or Lithuania – are also highly polarized around the very contentious issue of Latvia’s large Russian minority.
Latvia was hit extremely hard by the economic crisis beginning in 2008, the result of a housing bubble and easy credit market in the Baltic states. Latvia, which was hit the hardest of the three states, had enjoyed three consecutive years of economic growth over 10% between 2005 and 2008, thanks to economic (and political) integration with the European market since liberalization in the 1990s and the associated inflow of foreign investment, mostly in the form of credit from foreign parent banks (often Scandinavian). Most investment was directed towards the non-tradable goods sectors (real estate, construction, financial services) and domestic banks in the Baltics borrowed heavily, in Euros, from parent banks abroad on very low interest rates and were thus able to offer low-interest mortgage loans to local home-buyers. Latvian house prices expanded, on the EC’s house price index, from below 75 in early 2005 to a peak at 195.45 in the first quarter of 2008, the highest level of the three Baltic states. The Latvian case was further aggravated by higher inflation (15.3% in 2008, the highest in the EU) and greater economic mismanagement by the government, which was unwilling to do much (until late in 2007, by restricting credit) to address a rapidly overheating economy. The Latvian economy began collapsing in the third quarter of 2008, and GDP growth fell to a catastrophic -17.7% in 2009. Unemployment skyrocketed from 5.6% in December 2007 to a high of 10.8% in 2010, housing prices collapsed, the deficit ballooned from 0.7% in 2007 to 9.2% in 2009 and the country’s public debt increased from only 9% of GDP in 2007 to 44.5% in 2010.
When the recession struck in 2008, Latvia was governed – as has always been the case since 1991 – by a coalition of largely right-wing and vaguely populist parties, at the time led by Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis and the Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (LPP/LC), an alliance of two (corrupt and populist) right-wing parties. The government was forced to ask the EU and IMF for a €7.5 billion bailout (the World Bank, Nordic countries and EBRD also provided funds) in December 2008, with a first installement released in February 2009. The country’s catastrophic economic state in 2009, as well as the government’s woeful mismanagement of the economy resulted in large anti-government protests in January 2009 and eventually forced Godmanis to resign from office in late February 2009, after junior allies in his cabinet pulled the plug. Valdis Dombrovskis, a finance minister from 2002 to 2004 and MEP for the centre-right New Era Party, became Prime Minister in a broad right-wing coalition government which excluded the LPP/LC. The new government quickly implemented very severe and painful austerity measures, including significant increases in the VAT and excise taxes and deep cuts in public spending, wages and pensions. The government’s austerity policies impressed the IMF and the EU, and were endorsed by voters in the 2010 elections, which saw Dombrovskis’ new pro-austerity centre-right party, Unity (a merger of three parties, including the New Era and the Civic Union, which had won the 2009 EP elections), win 33 out of 100 seats. The oligarchs’ bloc – the LPP/LC and the People’s Party (TP), won only 7.8% and lost 25 seats.
Since 2010, the economy is clearly recovering (if not already recovered). Growth returned in 2011, with 5.3% growth after a three-year recession, and the economy is expected to grow by 3.8% in 2014. Unemployment, which sat at over 20% at the peak of the crisis, has since fallen to about 11.5% and is projected to drop into the single digits in 2015. As a result of the government’s austerity measures, the deficit has been reduced to only 1% of GDP in 2014. As a result, Latvia became the latest country to join the Euro, on January 1.
In 2011, a major political crisis led to snap elections in September 2011 – less than a year after the last elections – and further changes to the party system. The crisis began when then-President Valdis Zatlers used his constitutional prerogative to dissolve the Parliament (Saeima) after it had refused to lift the parliamentary immunity of Ainārs Šlesers, an oligarch-politician (a former cabinet minister) and leader of the LPP/LC who was the target of a corruption probe. As a result of Zatlers’ decision to dissolve the Saeima, he unexpectedly lost his reelection bid a few days later (the President is indirectly elected by the Saeima) and Andris Bērziņš, a politician from the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) – itself an ‘oligarchs’ party’ whose top figure is Aivars Lembergs, the mayor of the port city of Ventspils since 1988 and one of Latvia’s wealthiest persons, was elected in his stead. As per the constitution, voters ratified the presidential dissolution in a July referendum. Zatlers formed his own party, Zatlers Reform Party (ZRP), to contest the 2011 polls on an anti-corruption and anti-oligarchs platforms. Zatlers cited Aivars Lembergs (ZZS), Ainārs Šlesers (LPP/LC) and former Prime Minister Andris Šķēle (whose party, the TP, dissolved before the 2011 elections) as the three leading oligarchs in Latvian politics. His campaign put the spotlight on the influence of powerful oligarchs/businessmen in Latvian politics and the opacity of political financing in the country, which was the only EU member without per-vote public subsidies until 2010. In the 2011 elections, the ZRP placed second with 20.8% and 22 seats, against 18.8% and 20 seats for Prime Minister Dombrovskis’ Unity party. The oligarchic parties did poorly – the ZZS lost 9 seats (it won 12.2%) while Šlesers was unable to buy his way into the Saeima again, the LPP/LC losing all seats with 2.4% of the vote (the party dissolved later, but Šlesers has returned to politics). Dombrovskis remained Prime Minister in a coalition government made up of Unity, the ZRP, independents and the nationalist National Alliance.
The largest party in the Saeima is currently the Harmony Centre (SC), a left-wing alliance which represent Latvia’s substantial Russian minority. The Russian minority in Latvia has been an extremely contentious and polarizing political issue in the country since independence. Like the other Baltic states, Latvia was annexed – illegally, say the current Baltic governments and most of the West – by the Soviet Union in 1940 and remained under Soviet rule until independence in 1991. A small Russian minority (about 11% of the population) of Old Believers and pre-war Russian immigrants existed prior to 1941, but the Soviet regime encouraged or forced ethnic Russians (and Ukrainians, Belarusian etc) to move to Latvia, settling largely in the cities to work in industry. The Russian population stood at 34% and the ethnic Latvian population at only 52% in 1989. The Republic of Latvia, upon independence, considered itself to be the legal continuation of the interwar independent Latvia, and therefore restored a 1919 citizenship law which meant that those who had moved to Latvia after June 1940 (and their descendants) were not considered Latvian citizen (unless they were ethnic Latvians) – they were widely viewed as illegal immigrants. Instead, residents lacking Latvian or any other citizenship are legally recognized as Latvian non-citizens, a status which grants them rights similar to Latvian citizens (living and working in Latvia, visa-free travel in the Schengen area, access to social services, constitutional protections) but they lack the right to vote or hold public office (even at the local level). Russia has vocally protested several times, considering them as ‘stateless persons’, a charge denied by Latvia, and organizations such as the OECD and Amnesty International have also been critical of the non-citizens status.
Today, according to the 2011 census, 62.1% of Latvian residents are ethnic Latvians and 26.9% are ethnic Russian, with smaller Russophone populations of Belarusian (3.3%), Ukrainians (2.2%) and Poles (2.2%). Since 1991, the Russian (and associated Belarusian and Ukrainian) population has decreased significantly (from 34% and 905.5k in 1989 to 586k in 2014). 33.8% of Latvians speak Russian most often at home, but only Latvian – the common language of 56.3% of the population – has official status. In 2012, a Russian group collected enough signatures to hold a referendum on the recognition of Russian as a co-official language, but the question was rejected by 74.8% of voters. The Russian population is largely concentrated in urban areas (notably in Riga, where they make up 40.2% against 46.3% of Latvians) and the poor eastern border region of Latgale, where 38.9% of the population is Russian (they make up a majority in Daugavpils city, which is less than 20% Latvian). According to the latest citizenship numbers (2014), there were over 282,000 Latvian non-citizens – or 13% of the resident population. 31.7% of Russians – and 51.9% of Belarusian and 52.3% of Ukrainians – are non-citizens, meaning (among other things) that they are not eligible to vote in Latvian elections. Compared to Russians in Estonia, there are less ‘non-citizens’ (38% of Estonian Russians have ‘undetermined citizenship’, although they have the right to vote in local elections) and while 21% of Estonian Russians are Russian citizens, only 7% of Latvian Russians hold a foreign (read: Russian) citizenship. The number of non-citizens has fallen considerably (from nearly a third of the population in 1991), due to naturalization and the access of children of non-citizens born after 1991 being eligible for citizenship fairly easily (since 2013, children born to non-citizens automatically gain citizenship if the parents wish). However, naturalization requirements are still quite stringent and may repel some: fluency in Latvian, knowledge of the basic principles of the Constitution, the national anthem and basic Latvian history and culture. However, since 1991, conditions for naturalization have been loosened significantly. For example, until 1998, there were strict windows limiting who could apply for citizenship when.
The Russian minority issue is a highly polarizing and politically-charged topic, as evidenced by the 2012 referendum. For many ethnic Latvians, the Baltic Russians are a symbol or reminder of the traumatic period of the Soviet occupation – an era associated not only with huge demographic changes, but also Stalinist terror, mass deportations and Russification policies. Therefore, the Russian minority bears the stigma of the Soviet occupation, and may be viewed by some ethnic Latvians as a ‘fifth column’ disloyal to the country. For example, the largest Russian party, SC, is accused of ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia and the SC – an alliance of parties – include unreconstructed communists. The Russian issue has a direct impact on Latvia’s political culture and party system. Because ‘the left’ is associated with communism and the Soviet Union, there is no strong ethnic Latvian left-wing party (the Russian minority parties, such as SC, are on the left, but attract little to no Latvian support) – even of a moderate, non-communist social democratic variant. Party politics are heavily conditioned by the Russian issue, with the Latvian majority voting for their parties and Russians voting for quasi-exclusively Russian parties, such as SC. No Russian minority party has ever been included in government, although there have been several attempts or talks to include SC in government. For now, the Russians’ positions on bilingualism and historical controversies (the recognition of the Soviet era as as ‘occupation’, which is not accepted by all Russians) bars them from government participation.
SC is the most successful Russian minority party in the young country’s history, and became the first such party to win the most votes in a national election (in 2011). SC leader Nils Ušakovs, an ethnic Russian, was elected mayor of Riga in 2009 and reelected in a landslide in 2013.
Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned in November 2013, after the collapse of the roof of a Riga shopping centre killed 54 and injured 41, the worst disaster in six decades in the country. Dombrovskis took responsibility for the disaster, which was blamed on various factors including negligence and work safety violations by the private company and poor building inspection by the government. Some thought that Ušakovs should take responsibility, given the local government’s control over building quality, while others blamed the national government’s austerity budget cuts (which abolished the state building inspection). To many Latvians, the collapse spoke to larger issues such as political corruption, corporate abuse (the large supermarket chain was accused of providing poor safety training, several work safety violations and poor treatment of employees paid below minimum wage) and government failures. Dombrovskis was replaced by Laimdota Straujuma, a well-regarded agriculture minister and former economist who became the first woman to be Prime Minister. She formed a government with Unity, the Reform Party (as it is now known), the NA, independents and also the ZZS (excluded from Dombrovskis’ ‘anti-oligarchs’ government in 2011).
Latvia is preparing for a general election in October 2014, so the EP elections were of less importance although still an early test for the general elections in the fall. Turnout fell to only 30%, the lowest in the three EP elections held since 2004 (in 2009, turnout was a high 53.7% due to same-day local elections, but still stood at a ‘healthy’ 41.2%), and all parties except Unity lost votes from the 2011 election. Unity won an unexpectedly massive victory, scoring 46.2% of the votes and – as touched on – won more votes (204.9k) than in 2011 (172.5k). It is likely a vote of confidence for a fairly popular government, which has presided over a strong economic recovery (Unity ran on the need to stay the course with fiscal discipline) and has been generally less corrupt than past governments. Another factor which helped the governing party was the candidacy of former Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who personally received 148,056 plus votes and only 6,214 strike-throughs.
The National Alliance placed a surprise second, with a strong result of 14.3%. The party was founded in 2010-1 by the merger of two right-wing nationalist parties – the conservative right-wing For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) and the smaller far-right All for Latvia! (VL). It is a Latvian nationalist party, known for its anti-Russian positions and advocacy of tougher citizenship and language laws. The NA sits with the British Tories in the ECR group, an association which has caused headaches for the Tories since the NA’s members have participated in celebrations and commemorations for the Latvian Legion, a Waffen-SS formation of Latvian conscripts who fought the USSR during World War II. The NA’s two components have been branded as fascist or Holocaust deniers by the party’s opponents, although some of these claims are somewhat flimsy. Although the NA is somewhat Eurosceptic and anti-federalist, the Euroscepticism does not compare to the anti-EU views of far-right parties in older member-states and Latvian nationalists traditionally tend to be somewhat pro-NATO and pro-EU to oppose Russia. The party’s relative success in 2014 has been attributed to prevailing anxiety in the Baltics over events in Ukraine/Crimea, and the NA campaigned in favour of stronger pan-EU energy and foreign policies and strengthening the EU’s sanctions against Russia.
The main loser was the SC, which ran divided in this election. The largest and most moderate component of the SC alliance, the Social Democratic Party “Harmony” (SDP’S’), associated with the S&D, won 13% and only one seat, a poor result. Incumbent MEP Aleksandrs Mirskis left the SC and formed his own party, Alternative, which won 3.7% of the vote. The smaller and more radical component of the SC, the Latvian Socialist Party (LSP), ran separately this year (like in 2004 but unlike in 2009). The LSP is led by outgoing MEP Alfrēds Rubiks, a former hardline Communist Party apparatchik who opposed independence and was arrested in 1995 for ‘subverting state power’ and supporting the August 1991 coup attempt in Russia. Banned from running for or holding national office, Rubiks has been an MEP since 2009. The LSP won only 1.5% of the vote running independently, similar to its result in 2004. The Latvian Russian Union (LKS) – formerly For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL) – held its sole MEPs, although its support declined further to 6.4%. The LKS/PCTVL was the most popular Russian party for a while in the 1990s, but it has gradually been decimated by the SC since 2006, and lost its last seats in the Saeima in 2010. The LKS was likely kept alive in the EP elections by its incumbent MEP, Tatjana Ždanoka, another former Communist Party apparatchik who has found herself banned from office in Latvia (former ‘active members’ of the Communist Party are still banned from public office nationally). The LKS sits with the European Free Alliance (EFA) in the G-EFA group, although there has been some recent unease between the two due to the G-EFA’s positions on the Crimean crisis.
Besides the division of the vote, the Russian parties were hurt by lower turnout from Russian voters. In Latgale region, for example, turnout was 23.4% (the lowest in the country). The SDP’S’ won only 23% against 38.7% in Riga, while in Latgale it faced strong competition from Aleksandrs Mirskis’ Alternative: the former won 20.9% and the latter won 20.3%. Alternative was the largest party in Daugavpils city and municipality, while the SDP’S’ was strongest in Zilupes, a municipality on the Russian border which is 54.9% Russian and 13.8% Belarusian, and in the city of Rēzekne, evenly split between Latvians and Russians. Alternative was weak in Riga (a bit over 2%) and totally absent from the Latvian countryside. Rubiks and the LSP retain a base in the old Ludzas District, with up to 16.6% in Ludza Municipality, a lone holdout of unreconstructed communists in Latgale. Overall, the Russian parties polled less than 5% together in most of the ethnically Latvian rural areas.
The Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS), an alliance of the local Green Party and agrarian Latvian Farmers’ Union (LZU), which is more of an oligarchs’ party than anything (although it is generally eurosceptic and populist), won its first MEP, with 8.3% – a fairly disappointing result compared to 2011 and pre-election expectations. The party’s new MEP, who is from the LZU (the largest component, with 9 out of 13 MPs), will sit with the EFD group – the Greens, although to the right of other greens in the EU, are affiliated with the European Greens; many expected the LZU to sit with the ALDE, like Nordic agrarians in Scandinavia. A reason for the ZZS’ poor result – besides that it has tended to do much better in national elections – may be the ZZS’ poor result in and around oligarch Aivars Lembergs’ stronghold in Ventspils, where the ZZS won only 17% (in the city) and 25.9% (in the rural municipality) compared to 37.4% and 45.7% for Unity. The decrease in turnout and the NA’s gains were stronger around Ventspils. The ZZS is a predominantly rural-based party in ethnic Latvian regions, while the NA is stronger in urban and suburban Latvian regions.
Below the threshold, one of the most noted failures was that of ‘Latvian Development’, a centre-right neoliberal party founded by former New Era leader Einars Repše, a former Prime Minister (2002-2004) and later finance minister (2009-2010) behind the tough austerity measures during the crisis. The party spent an astronomical amount of money for one vote – about €54/vote (for all of 2.1%), beating previous records set by Šlesers in 2010 and 2011. Another new small party, the Latvian Association of Regions – a coalition of several local independents – won 2.5%, polling well in some of the strongholds of its local bosses, notably 20.7% in Preiļu Municipality in Latgale. The Reform Party, which seems to be in very bad shape, did not run.
Turnout: 47.35% (+26.37%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR (preferential votes for up to 5 candidates), 5% threshold (national constituency)
TS-LKD (EPP) 17.43% (-8.73%) winning 2 seat (-2)
LSDP (S&D) 17.26% (-0.86%) winning 2 seats (-1)
LRLS (ALDE) 16.55% (+9.38%) winning 2 seats (+1)
TT (EFD) 14.25% (+2.35%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DP (ALDE) 12.81% (+4.25%) winning 1 seat (nc)
AWPL/LLRA-RA (ECR) 8.05% (-0.15%) winning 1 seat (nc)
LVŽS (G-EFA) 6.61% (+4.79%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.56% (+3.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nationalist Union 2% (+2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LiCS 1.48% (-1.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Coinciding with the second round of presidential elections which interested many more voters (but still only a minority), the EP elections saw significantly higher turnout than in 2009, when, as a stand-alone vote, only 21% of voters had bothered to vote – the second lowest in the EU.
Like Latvia, Lithuanian politics since 1991 have been marked by rapid government turnover, anti-incumbency and a highly fragmented party system in which new parties regularly emerge to perform quite well (before, in some cases, crashing and burning in seconds). In the past few years, politics may have stabilized somewhat, with less extreme anti-incumbent swings in elections and a Prime Minister (from 2008 to 2012) who became the first head of government to serve a full term in office. Lithuania’s political culture, however, is rather distinct from that of Estonia and Latvia. Because Lithuania’s Communist Party, in 1989, had broken from the CPSU and endorsed Lithuanian independence, the left has been less stigmatized by its communist past than in the other countries and it has been a significant force in national politics. The current Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) was formed in 2000 by the merger of the original social democratic party (founded in 1896) and the stronger post-communist party born from the local Communist Party. Algirdas Brazauskas, the last leader of the local Communists, served as President (1993-1998) and Prime Minister (2001-2006) of Lithuania. Secondly, minority politics and issues are less contentious in Lithuania, which saw the least demographic upheavals of the Baltic states during Soviet rule. The Russian minority only makes up 5.8% of the population (and, at its peak in 1989, only made up 9% of the population against about 80% of ethnic Lithuanians) and is politically insignificant. The Polish minority (6.6%), far less controversial, is actually larger and more politically active. As a result, Lithuania adopted a fairly liberal citizenship law which effectively granted citizenship to all permanent residents in 1989.
Like Latvia and Estonia, Lithuania’s economy grew rapidly in the first years of the 21st century (growth didn’t falk under 7% between 2003 and 2008) because of the housing bubble and easy credit from abroad. Housing prices did not grow as much as in its two fellow Baltic neighbors, although the housing price index still surged from 102 in 2006 to a peak of 159 in 2008-Q2. Lithuania’s housing bubble burst slightly later and recession only hit in the last quarter of 2008, allowing Lithuania to be the only Baltic state to still record a positive GDP growth in 2008 (+3%). In 2009, however, housing prices tumbled and growth crashed to -14.8%. Unemployment likewise soared from 13.7% to 20.8% from January 2009 to January 2010. The country’s deficit blew up to 9.4% of GDP in 2009 and the country’s low government debt level increased from 15.5% in 2008 to 40.5% in 2012. Overall, the recession was less severe than in Latvia – and the country never needed to ask for a bailout from the EU-IMF, but to prevent such a scenario, the conservative government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius (2008-2012) implemented austerity measures including major spending cuts, public sector job cuts, some tax hikes and cuts to pensions and public sector wages. The government’s austerity policies suceeded in reducing the deficit to 3.2% of GDP in 2012 (and it dropped below the EU’s 3% limit in 2013) and the economy escaped recession as early as 2010 and recorded 3.7% growth in 2013. However, high unemployment (15-14% at the time of the 2012 election), the country’s very low minimum wage – the third lowest in the EU in 2012 and Kubilius’ perceived lack of empathy meant that the ruling centre-right Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) paid the price for austerity in the 2012 election.
The TS-LKD won 15.1% of the vote and 33 seats in the 2012 election, a loss of 12 seats. The centre-left LSDP won 18.4% and 38 seats, becoming the largest party in the Seimas. The Labour Party (DP), an undefinable populist party led by shady Russian-born businessman Viktor Uspaskich (a ‘self-made man’ who made his money in pickles and gas), recorded significant gains from the 2008 election, placing first in the PR list vote with 19.8% and ending up with 29 seats in the Seimas. Uspaskich’s DP, founded just a year before, won the 2004 EP and legislative elections, and the DP formed a coalition with the LSDP and a social liberal party. Uspaskich resigned as finance minister in 2006 and fled to Russia, after being accused of false accounting for failing to declare over €4 million in income and expenditures. Upon his return to Lithuania in 2007, he was arrested and later released on bail. Uspaskich was shielded from prosecution by his parliamentary immunity as a MEP after 2009 and as a member of the Seimas since 2012. After the 2012 elections, the DP was was the focus of 10 judicial investigations into vote buying. Algirdas Butkevičius’ LSDP was set to form a coalition with the DP and another populist party, the vaguely right-wing Order and Justice (TT) party of impeached President Rolandas Paksas (2003-2004), who had been impeached for illegally granting Lithuanian citizenship to Russian businessman (and a contributor to his unlikely bid for President in 2003) Yuri Borisov, leaking confidential information to the same man and using his power to favour friends in a privatization deal. Paksas and Uspaskich have both denied the accusations against them, claiming that they are victims of political persecution. Both the DP and TT are anti-establishment populist parties, with only vague ideologies – the former, who sits in the ALDE group, has a distinctively left-wing name and left-wing populist positions; the latter, who sits in the EFD group (but is that group’s least loyal member), has a soft-Eurosceptic and law-and-order profile, but Paksas was previously a member of the LSDP, the TS-LKD and a liberal party. At times, the promises made by these populist parties are completely unrealistic – in 2012, Uspaskich promised to totally eliminate unemployment (0%) and resign if he didn’t.
Following the 2012 election, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, a very popular former European Commissioner who was elected to the presidency in a first round landslide in 2009, announced that she would reject any coalition with the DP, arguing that a party suspected of electoral fraud with a leader under investigation for false accounting and money laundering had no place in government. Nevertheless, Grybauskaitė appointed Butkevičius to form a government, in which the DP was included. Algirdas Butkevičius, a bland and uncharismatic politician, formed a coalition government with the participation of his party, the DP, the TT and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL/LLRA), the conservative party representing the Polish minority. Although she was unable to keep the DP out of government, Grybauskaitė intervened to keep high-profile portfolios out of the DP’s hands (they hold culture, agriculture, labour and education) while Uspaskich and his three key lieutenants are not in cabinet.
The government has appeared fairly unremarkable and uncontroversial so far. Vilnius aims to be the last Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2015, and the government announced in early 2013 plans to raise taxes on high earners and property and move towards a progressive income and corporate tax to replace the existing 15% flat tax. The minimum wage was increased to 1,000 litas (€289.62/hour) and should be increased to 1,509 litas (€437.03). The DP has demanded an immediate increase in the minimum wage as a precondition for joining the euro, while the LSDP has warned that a rapid increase in one year would prevent the country for meeting the criteria for membership.
In July 2013, Viktor Uspaskich and his three associates were found guilty of false accounting (the DP avoided paying taxes and fees between 2004 and 2006 and hid up to €7 million in revenues) and he was sentenced to four year in jail. He briefly fled to Russia before returning home later in the month, and he has not served his jail sentence because of his parliamentary immunity. Furthermore, in these times of high tensions with Russia, Uspaskich’s murky business connections with Russian gas giant Gazprom and his suspected Russian sympathies have made him even more controversial. President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who has taken a very firm anti-Russian stance in the last few months – publicly saying that there is a real danger of war in Europe and that a new Cold War has begun, has excluded the DP from cabinet meetings where sensitive defense matters are discussed, suspecting that the DP is under Moscow’s influence.
In the first round of the presidential elections on May 11, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, running as an independent but supported by the opposition conservative TS-LKD and the Liberal Movement (LRLS), came out far ahead of the pack with 45.9% of the vote against only 13.6% for her closest rival, LSDP candidate Zigmantas Balčytis, who also led the LSDP’s list in the EP elections. The DP candidate, Artūras Paulauskas, a former Interim President and cabinet minister, won 12%. Former TS-LKD member Naglis Puteikis won 9.3%, the AWPL’s leader and MEP Valdemar Tomaševski won 8.2%, the mayor of Vilnius Artūras Zuokas won 5.2% and agrarian candidate Bronis Ropė won 4.1%. Although Grybauskaitė’s popularity has declined since her landslide victory in 2009, she remains highly popular, as a respected and competent strong-willed president. Recently, Grybauskaitė’s tough stances against the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea and the events in Ukraine have boosted her popularity, in a country where there is very high anxiety and apprehension about Russia. In contrast, her Social Democratic opponent, Zigmantas Balčytis, urged diplomacy and conciliation with Russia while criticizing Grybauskaitė’s assertive style. The Lithuanian President has lost most of his/her power since independence, and is largely confined to a ceremonial and symbolic role while retaining some influence over foreign policy.
The second round of the presidential elections saw lower turnout than in the first round – 47.3% instead of 52.2% – but the relatively decent level of popular interest in the presidential election significantly boosted turnout in the EP election as a consequence. Lithuania has generally seen very low turnout, even in high-stakes national elections, so low-stakes elections held alone – like the EP elections in 2009 – can be expected to see very low turnout.
The opposition TS-LKD unexpectedly topped the polls, although with a paltry result of 17.4% which is down significantly on its result in 2009 (although because of turnout differences, it won far more votes than in 2009). Since its 2012 defeat, the TS-LKD went through a closely-fought internal leadership battle between former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who eventually retained his job, and the party’s founder Vytautas Landsbergis. The right’s victory is likely due to differential turnout, with higher turnout recorded in the cities of Vilnius and Kaunas – where the conservatives traditionally do best/better. As in 2009, turnout was also significantly higher in Polish areas, with 57% turnout in Šalčininkai District Municipality, which is over 80% Polish. The higher turnout from Polish voters explains the AWPL’s strong performance, as in 2009: the Polish minority party received 8% of the vote, higher than the size of the Polish minority in Lithuania and higher than the AWPL’s 2012 result (5.8%, the party’s best result in a national legislative election). Some have also speculated that the TS-LKD and the Liberals (who won a very strong 16.6%) may have benefited from President Grybauskaitė’s unofficial support and potential coattails from her runoff victory, with 57.9% against 40.1% for the LSDP’s Zigmantas Balčytis.
The governing LSDP and DP both fell back from their 2012 results, with the DP falling from 19.8% in 2012 to 12.8% in 2014 – although its EP result this year is an improvement on its 2009 result, which had come on the heels of the DP’s poor showing in the 2008 legislative election. Order and Justice, with 14.3%, significantly improved on its 2009 and 2012 (7.3%) result; as did the LVŽS, the Peasant and Greens Union, whose result is up on 2009 and 2012 (3.9%). As in 2009, the DP and TT were led by their respective leaders, Viktor Uspaskich and Rolandas Paksas, both of whom were elected to the EP.
The electoral commission has some nice maps of the results of the EP results here and here (you can clarify some of the problems caused by the horrible shades on my map!). I’ve noticed a fairly strong regional dimension in Lithuanian elections, with parties having fairly well-defined regional bases of support. The TS-LKD tend to perform better in the cities of Kaunas and Vilnius; the Liberals do well in urban centres, but especially in the coastal city of Klaipeda (24.9% of the vote) and the resort town of Neringa (32.8%). The LSDP is weaker in Kaunas and Vilnius (only 12.1% in the latter), and stronger in more rural areas. The DP’s support, especially in 2014, was quite concentrated: the party won 38.9% in Kėdainiai District Municipality, which is the centre of Viktor Uspaskich’s business empire (his food processing, canning and pickles company ‘Vikonda’ is based in Kėdainiai and operates several plants in the region). TT is strongest in western Lithuania, with 32.8% of the vote in Paksas’ birthplace of Telšiai but also (for some reason unknown to me) 45.2% in Pagėgių municipality and 30.3% in the heavily Russian town of Visaginas (a town built for the largely Russian employees of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, decommissioned in 2009). The AWPL, unsurprisingly, has very regionally-concentrated support as a minority party: it won 74.8% in Šalčininkai District Municipality (over 80% Polish), 54.6% in Vilnius District Municipality (53% Polish), 32.9% in the Russian town of Visaginas (the AWPL ran in coalition with the small Russian Alliance, a tiny party for the Russian minority), 22.4% in Trakai District Municipality, 17.7% in Švenčionys District Municipality and 15.9% in Vilnius city (which has a small Polish minority).
Turnout: 95.92% (+5.16%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR with panachage (votes for a single party list of 6 candidates, or up to 2 votes per candidate or 6 different candidates from any lists), no threshold (national constituency) / mandatory voting enforced
CSV (EPP) 37.65% (+6.29%) winning 3 seats (nc)
The Greens (G-EFA) 15.01% (-1.82%) winning 1 seat (nc)
DP (ALDE) 14.77% (-3.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
LSAP (S&D) 11.75% (-7.73%) winning 1 seat (nc)
ADR (ECR) 7.53% (+0.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The Left (GUE/NGL) 5.76% (+2.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 4.23% (+4.23%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PID 1.82% (+1.82%) winning 0 seats (nc)
KPL 1.49% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Luxembourg is the second smallest of the EU’s member-states both in terms of land area and population, but it manages to punch far above its weight in EU politics. Luxembourg, which occupies a strategic position in Western Europe between France, Germany and Belgium, has a long history of close ties to its neighbors (notably with Germany until 1918) and became a leading force in European diplomacy after World War II. The country was a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which placed Luxembourg’s large steel resources under supranational control, and Luxembourg City hosted the seat of the ECSC’s High Authority. The country’s leaders have been keen promote their country’s interests and ensure their representation in supranational institutions, to prevent larger domineering powers from overwhelming smaller member-states. Since then, Luxembourg has gained a reputation as an honest broker of compromises and trustworthy intermediary in European diplomacy. The country is the main seat of the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the secretariat of the EP and a secondary meeting spot for the Council of Ministers. Luxembourgian politicians play a major role in EU politics: two former Prime Ministers, Gaston Thorn and Jacques Santer, have served as Presidents of the European Commission and now former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is set to become the next President of the European Commission. Juncker had previously been noted in his role as president of the Eurogroup. Luxembourg is said to be the most pro-European country in the EU. The country is also highly diverse and multilingual: Luxembourg has three official languages used interchangeably by a largely multilingual population, a majority of Luxembourgians speak English and 45% of the country’s residents are foreign citizens.
In stark contrast with the three previous countries I’ve looked at (Italy, Latvia, Lithuania), Luxembourgian politics have been tremendously stable for the past hundred years or so. It’s hardly surprising – it’s a small rich country where relatively little happens (outside of the two world wars). The Christian Social People’s Party (CSV), a Christian democratic centre-right party, has been Luxembourg’s traditional party of government – it has (or its pre-1944 predecessor) held the Prime Minister’s office since 1919 with the exception of 1925-1926, 1974-1979 and since 2013. However, all but one governments since 1919 have been coalition governments, traditionally led by the CSV in alliance with the two other major (albeit traditionally weaker) parties – the social democratic Socialist Workers’ Party (LSAP) or the liberal Democratic Party (DP). The CSV, LSAP and DP do differ on certain issues – the CSV remains influenced by a Catholic tradition while the DP and LSAP are secular (today, these differences are played out in attitudes towards religious education), the DP is usually the most liberal on economic issues favouring less government intervention (but is more interventionist than other European liberal parties and is hardly neoliberal) and the LSAP supports a strong welfare state and more government intervention (most recently its passionate defense of the indexation of wages to the cost of living/inflation) – but having often governed with one another, all three parties are moderate, pragmatic, strongly pro-European and fit in the broad centre of the political spectrum. The CSV, for example, has favoured Eurobonds (unlike Merkel) and preached solidarity by wealthier member-states. The CSV’s strongly federalist and even its more positions in favour of a more social and solidary Europe are somewhat at odds with the modern EPP mainstream. At the same time, Juncker has been criticized by the European left for staunchly defending Luxembourg’s status as something of a tax haven (after deindustrialization, Luxembourg reinvented itself as a major financial and corporate centre).
Parties outside the three old parties have been more ideologically defined. The Greens, one of the strongest green parties in the EU, remain rather centrist and very pro-European (although they joined the smaller parties in opposing TAFTA). However, the right-wing Alternative Democratic Reform Party (ADR), a former pensioners’ party, has more right-wing stances – it is the most Eurosceptic of all parties (having opposed the 2005 Constitution and Lisbon), opposes voting rights for foreigners in national elections and has a populist focus on direct democracy and less bureaucracy. The ADR has fairly stable support at 8-11% in general elections (although it fell to only 6.6% in 2013), but that’s never been enough to elect an MEP. The Communist Party (KPL) survives as a more radical fringe party, being outpolled by the newer The Left, similar to Germany’s more well-known Die Linke (favouring redistribution, higher wages, more taxes on the wealthy) but less radical (it is not anti-EU).
Juncker was the EU’s longest-serving head of government until October 2013, having held the Prime Minister’s office continuously since 1995. He was forced to resign a year ahead of schedule, in July 2013, after a scandal in the state intelligence services (SREL). The SREL was accused of irregular and illegal activities including illegal wiretaps, bugging politicians, extrajudicial operations and maintaining files on citizens and politicians while Juncker, as minister responsible for the SREL, was accused by his junior partner (the LSAP) of failing to notice and report on illegal activities and deficiencies. For the first time in decades, voters went to the polls early in October 2013, meaning that these EP elections were the first which did not coincide with a general election. The CSV remained, as always, the largest party but lost 4.4% and 3 seats, while the liberal DP gained 3.3% and 4 seats – winning as many seats (13) as the LSAP, which won an all-time low result of only 20.3%. Xavier Bettel, the young openly gay mayor of Luxembourg City and DP leader, formed a coalition government with the LSAP and The Greens.
After last year’s ‘defeat’, the CSV roared back with a major victory in the EP elections while the governing DP and especially LSAP suffered substantial loses. Because the small country elects only six MEPs, these changes were still not large enough to produce changes in the distribution of seats. The CSV won 37.7%, a result up 6.3% on the CSV’s rather poor result in the 2009 EP election (down significantly from 2004, when Juncker also topped the CSV’s list in the EP elections) and up from 33.7% in last year’s national election. I wonder if the CSV may have benefited from a ‘Juncker effect’ which boosted its result, although because he wasn’t a candidate to the EP himself (unlike Schulz and Verhofstadt), that might be grasping at straws a bit. The CSV did have a popular candidate – Viviane Reding, a three-time European Commissioner (from 1999 to 2014), most recently at the justice portfolio, and a leading European federalist. She won the most votes of any candidate in Luxembourg – 126,888. Two incumbent CSV MEPs placed in fourth and fifth place nationally.
The DP won 14.8%, a result from 18.7% in 2009 and 18.3% in 2013. Incumbent MEP and former cabinet minister Charles Goerens was the second most popular candidate, winning 82,975 votes. The biggest loser of the election, however, was the LSAP – the party collapsed to a disastrous fourth place, winning only 11.8%, down from 20.3% in 2013 and 19.5% in 2009. The LSAP has been on a clear downwards trends for a number of years now, bleeding votes to the radical left, the Greens and other parties and suffering from poor and uninspiring leadership. The LSAP’s inability to claim the Prime Minister’s office in 2013 reflected poorly on Étienne Schneider, the LSAP’s leader and current Deputy PM. The LSAP also suffered from the lack of a popular candidate: its sole MEP, former education minister (and a fairly unpopular one at that) Mady Delvaux-Stehres, placed only ninth of all candidates nationally with 33,323 votes – all six of the CSV’s candidates polled more votes individually, as did the top candidates for the DP and The Greens.
The Greens, always stronger in EP than national elections, won an excellent 15%, although that’s down from an even stronger result of 16.8% in 2009. For comparison’s sake, the Greens won 10.1% in 2013.
All other parties failed to pass the threshold: for once, the ADR did better in the EP election than last year’s national election (6.6%); The Left improved from 3.4% in 2009 and 4.9% in 2013 and the Pirates, who won 2.9%, won a solid 4.2%. The Party for Integral Democracy (PID) is a party founded in 2012 by former ADR deputy Jean Colombera, a physician who practices homeopathic medicine, supports same-sex marriage and is under investigation for prescribing medical marijuana. In 2013, it won 1.5%, and increased its support to 1.8% with 9,314 votes for Colombera himself.
The CSV topped the poll in all 106 communes, even in traditionally Socialist regions in the Red Lands (southern Luxembourg), the heart of the country’s old iron ore and steel industry. In Luxembourg City, the CSV won 37.2% (+6.9%) against 17.5% for the DP (-4.64%), 16.3% for the Greens (-3.41%) and only 11.5% for the LSAP (-4.3%).
Turnout: 74.80% (-3.99%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: STV, quota threshold (quota = votes cast ÷ seats + 1, national constituency)
Labour (S&D) 53.39% (-1.38%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Nationalist (EPP) 40.02% (-0.47%) winning 3 seats (+1)
AD (G-EFA) 2.95% (+0.61%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Imperium Europa 2.68% (+1.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Tal-Ajkla 0.48% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Alleanza Bidla 0.4% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Alleanza Liberali 0.08% (+0.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Malta is the EU’s smallest member-state both in terms of land area and population. Having joined the EU only in 2004, Malta has a very minor role and place in the EU (unlike Luxembourg) and its politics very rarely receive outside attention (something of a pity). Compared to other EU member-states – which largely have multi-party systems or at least some strong ‘third parties’ – Malta has a very solid and rigid two-party system (despite STV) marked by high voter loyalty to their parties, very limited spillover of preferences between the two parties, very high turnout (and it does not even have compulsory voting!), closely fought elections (losing parties rarely win less than 47% in general elections) and relative pro-incumbency. The two dominant parties are the Labour Party (MLP/PL) and the Nationalist Party (PN), two parties whose ideologies and identities have evolved significantly since their origins in the 1920s, when Malta was a British colony.
The PN was founded by Malta’s local pro-Italian elites, backed by the powerful Catholic Church, opposed to Anglicization measures; the MLP was originally a pro-British and anti-clerical party which supported Malta’s integration into the United Kingdom but later became pro-independence after integration failed in 1956. Dom Mintoff, Prime Minister of Malta between 1971 and 1984 and MLP leader since 1949, came to be the iconic figure of Maltese politics in the post-war years. A strong-willed, fiery and pugnacious leader, Mintoff defended his island’s independence and neutrality tooth-and-nail; his rule saw the negotiation of full independence as a republic, the scrapping of a defense agreement with the UK, the expulsion of the NATO commander, friendly ties with Gaddafi’s Libya and communist China, the growth of a modern and advanced welfare state, nationalization of key enterprises and major social reforms (gender equality, civil marriage and the decriminalization of homosexuality and adultery). Mintoff was not afraid to pick fights with his opponents, notably the Church, who interdicted the MLP between 1961 and 1964 (and Mintoff, in his last terms, tried to wrestle control of education and healthcare away from the Church) and his opponents claimed that he was an autocrat who bullied opponents, distributed patronage, gerrymandered districts and whose supporters even physically roughed up opponents. Mintoff remained in Parliament until 1998, and successfully plotted to have the Labour government of Prime Minister Alfred Sant (1996-1998) toppled from power in 1998. He died in 2012.
The PN has usually been pro-European and pro-Western since World War II, moderating its early pro-Italian and pro-fascist nationalism early on (in 1964, the PN negotiated independence for Malta – as a member of the Commonwealth retaining the Queen as head of state and a British Governor General, and signed a military agreement with NATO) and leading the charge for EU accession in the 1990s, with Labour opposed. In the 2003 accession referendum, Labour and Mintoff opposed EU membership and only 54% voted in favour in the end, although the MLP has since made its peace with the EU.
The PN governed Malta for all but two years (1996-1998) between 1987 and 2013, pursuing a fairly generic pro-European, pro-Western conservative centre-right policy. With the MLP abandoning its Euroscepticism and non-aligned foreign policy (although the new Labour government has been building better economic/business relations with the PR China) and the PN moderating its Catholic social conservative stances (although Malta remains extremely socially conservative by European standards: divorce was only legalized in 2011 and Malta is the only EU country where abortion remains technically illegal in all circumstances; but the new Labour government legalized same-sex civil unions and adoptions in April 2014 with PN abstentions), the differences between the MLP and PN have been blurred – but, unlike in other EU countries, this hasn’t led to major disalignment from the major parties or weakening in partisan identities. In the 2013 election, Nationalist Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Labour leader Joseph Muscat had fairly similar policy platforms. The MLP won the March 2013 elections by a ‘landslide margin’ by Maltese standards – 54.8% and 39 seats against 43.3% and 30 seats for the PN (a 35,000 vote margin and the largest victory for one party since 1955). Because Malta’s economy is performing quite well, the PN was the victim of voter fatigue, perceptions of Nationalist complacency and aloofness, corruption scandals, unpopular policy decisions and high utility prices. Joseph Muscat, who at the young age of 40 represents a new generation of pro-European and moderate ‘European’ social democrats in the MLP, became Prime Minister.
Muscat’s government does not seem to have done anything particularly unpopular or spectacular since taking office over a year ago, with the government claiming that it has created more jobs than the PN governments and was saving families money by cutting utility rates. In the summer of 2013, Muscat was embroiled in a row with the EU over his government’s controversial plan to turn back asylum seekers – because of its location, Malta is on the ‘frontline’ of waves of immigration from North Africa, who often seek to reach the EU in makeshift boats (who often capsize, with terrible loss of life). In November 2013, the PN attacked a government project to sell Maltese (=EU) citizenship to qualified applicants for €650,000 – targeting ‘high quality’ foreigners and investors. The EP elections were something of a test for the government and opposition: the last two elections to the EP in Malta were won by the then-opposition (MLP) by unusually large margins (a 4-2 seat split in the MLP’s favour in 2009), so the PN was optimistic about its chances and the party’s new leader, Simon Busuttil, set the objective of a 3-3 split in seats.
The ruling Labour Party won the elections, with a slightly reduced majority compared to the 2009 EP elections, while the opposition PN did poorly with a result similar to its very poor 2009 result (and below its 2013 result). However, the PN can mask its disappointing result in the popular vote by pointing out that it succeeded in its objective of gaining a seat from the MLP to get a 3-3 split in seats.
The last two MEPs – from the MLP and PN – were elected on the 28th count without a quota, with PN candidate Therese Comodini Cachia winning with 206 more votes than the unsuccessful MLP candidate. The University of Malta has Excel files with full count details and party transfers. I’m not sure what explains the PN’s success at gaining a third seat in the STV count: it might be the PN having one less candidate, intricacies in the efficiency of vote transfers from PN candidates (although both MLP and PN votes transferred to their colleagues at 94% efficiency; but one PN MEP elect had his votes transfer to the eventual final PN MEP-elect on the 26th count with 99.7% efficiency vs. 93.2% for the transfer of votes for a defeated MLP incumbent in the final 28th count) and a minor edge to the PN in transfers from the green AD (although 46.7% of the AD’s votes were non-transferable, 31.2% went to the PN against 22.2% for the MLP in the 21st count).
The election saw the political return of former MLP Prime Minister Alfred Sant, whose short-lived government froze EU accession talks in the 1990s and went on to lead Labour to defeat at the hands of the PN in the 1998, 2003 and 2008 elections (as well as in the 2003 EU referendum). He is somewhat controversial with parts of the Labour base, but retains significant support. In the end, he was elected on the first count with 48,739 first preference votes (19.4%), over 12.7 thousand votes over the quota.
Minor parties improved on their 2009 performances. The green centre-left AD, led by Arnold Cassola (an academic and former Italian Green MP for Italian expats in Europe from 2006 to 2008), won nearly 3% – up 0.6% from 2009. But in 2004, the AD had done exceptionally well with 9.3% (a huge result for a third party in Malta) and Cassola was only eliminated on the final count. The far-right Imperium Europa (likely one of the EU’s most bizarre far-right parties: it supports European unity but from a white supremacist/racial standpoint and fascist/neo-Nazi orientation; in its words “A Europid bond forged through Spirituality closely followed by Race, nurtured through High Culture, protected by High Politics, enforced by the The Elite”) won 2.7%, with 6,205 first prefs for party leader Normal Lowell, up from 1.5% in 2009.
Turnout hit an all-time low of 74.8%, which is extremely low by Maltese standards (although most European countries can only dream of achieving such levels of turnout without compulsory voting) – which saw a ‘low’ turnout of 93% in 2013 (!). In 2004, turnout was 82.4% and dropped to 78.8% in 2009.
Turnout: 37.32% (+0.57%)
MEPs: 26 (nc)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR (vote for a party or a single vote for one candidate on the list), no threshold (candidates may be elected out of list order if they win 0.96% or more of the vote; electoral alliances between parties allowed – votes cast are pooled and treated as a whole), national constituency
D66 (ALDE) 15.48% (+4.16%) winning 4 seats (+1)
CDA (EPP) 15.18% (-4.87%) winning 5 seats (nc)
PVV (EAF) 13.32% (-3.65%) winning 4 seats (-1)
VVD (ALDE) 12.02% (+0.63%) winning 3 seats (nc)
SP (GUE/NGL) 9.64% (+2.54%) winning 2 seats (nc)
PvdA (S&D) 9.4% (-2.65%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CU-SGP (ECR/EFD > ECR) 7.67% (+0.85%) winning 2 seats (nc)
GroenLinks (G-EFA) 6.98% (-1.89%) winning 2 seats (-1)
PvdD (GUE/NGL) 4.21% (+0.75%) winning 1 seat (+1)
50PLUS 3.69% (+3.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 0.85% (+0.85%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.58% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Map credit: Josse de Voogd
The Netherlands, since the mid-1960s, have gradually moved from having one of the most stable party systems in Europe to one of the most volatile, unpredictable and fragmented. Up until the 1960s, Dutch politics were divided by the strict and rigid system of pillarisation – voluntary religious, political and social segregation of society into four pillars, each with their own parties, trade union, newspaper, radio station, cultural activities/organizations, schools, hospitals and even sporting activities. These pillars were Protestant, Catholic, socialist and ‘general’ (liberal); the Protestants and Catholics’ parties united politically to rule the Netherlands for much of the twentieth century – at least one confessional party was in government between 1918 and 1994 (oftentimes all three major confessional parties were in), usually admitting the liberals or socialists to rule in coalition (for example the ‘Roman-Red’ coalitions spearheaded by the centre-left Labour Party and the Catholic party between 1946 and 1958; or the Christian democrats’ regular alliances with the liberals from 1959 to 1989), and held an absolute majority in Parliament between 1918 and 1967. The denominational pillars, especially the Catholic one, were the most organized and had the tightest grip on their masses; the liberal pillar, largely made up of irreligious or non-practicing Protestant educated middle-classes or elites, was the worst organized pillar. Voting shifts were relatively minor, and mostly happened between blocs – for example, the Communist Party (CPN) in the post-war years was gradually weakened while the Labour Party (PvdA) was strengthened. However, with the rise of a modern and increasingly deconfessionalized society in the mid-1960s, Dutch society was progressively ‘depillarised’ and the Protestant (ARP, CHU) and Catholic (KVP) lost many votes, while the right-liberals (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, VVD), Labour and new parties on the left and centre benefited (most notably Democrats 66, or D66, a new anti-pillarisation and left-liberal party advocating for democratic reform, which was founded – you guessed it – in 1966).
Beginning in the 1970s, Dutch politics – facilitated by one of the world’s most proportional electoral systems – became increasingly volatile and unpredictable, with larger swings from election to election – D66 has a famously ‘floating’ and highly volatile electorate, as the second-choice of many liberals and leftists it has a very high ceiling but lacking a solid, loyal clientele it has a very low floor, so it has tended to collapse when it is in government but able to surge to high levels when it is in the opposition. Nevertheless, until 1994, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) – formed in 1977 by the merger of the Catholic party (KVP) and the two major Protestant parties (Abraham Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionaries, and the Christian Historical Union or CHU) – remained the largest party in Parliament and was in every cabinet. As a centrist, middle-of-the-road and consensual party (although one which more often than not leans to the right), it retained the old Catholic/Protestant bloc’s ability to structure consensus-driven Dutch politics around itself and governed in coalition with either the right-liberal VVD or the PvdA.
For a variety of reasons including unpopular policy decisions and its own arrogance, the CDA (and its then-junior ally, the PvdA) suffered major loses in the 1994 elections, in which D66 won a record 15.5% and 24 seats. D66, whose lifelong aim had been to realign Dutch politics by throwing the Christian democrats out of power, finally got their wish in the form of an historic ‘Purple coalition’ with the PvdA and the VVD, with the centrist D66 providing the glue to hold the centre-left and centre-right parties together. The Purple cabinets led by Wim Kok, in power from 1994 to 2002, were a typically ’90s type of government: mixing economic liberalism (tax cuts and strongly favourable to free markets) and social liberalism (multiculturalism, open immigration policies, early legalization same-sex marriage, legalization of euthanasia and prostitution). Initially popular, after two terms in power, the Purple arrangement had become deeply unpopular by 2002 – both the PvdA and VVD (without mentioning D66, which had predictably collapsed upon entering government) had lost support because the Purple coalition obscured both parties’ identities and created major dissatisfaction with their voters. The PvdA became closely wedded to economic liberalism and free-market policies, losing support on the left; the VVD, less cripplingly, was forced to be quiet about immigration.
In 2002, a charismatic populist leader, Pim Fortuyn – an openly gay former Marxist sociology professor, exploited the unpopularity of the Purple government (he published a hard-hitting best-seller about the ‘wreckage’ of the Purple government) and growing concerns about immigration (particularly Muslim). Fortuyn took anti-immigration and anti-Islam positions from an original, socially liberal, standpoint, arguing that Islam was a ‘backwards religion’ and an existential threat to Dutch liberal society (he supported same-sex marriage, euthanasia, women’s rights, drug legalization). Fortuyn’s charismatic, anti-establishment, combative (notably deliberately provoking an imam by giving him gaudy details of sexual activities he had performed, and picking the fruits when the imam blew up) and foul-mouthed style was a big success in 2002, and his newly-founded personalist party, the LPF, became a frontrunner in that year’s election. However, Fortuyn was shockingly assassinated by an animal rights’ activist only a week before the election. The LPF nevertheless did remarkably well, with 17% and 26 seats, placing second. The PvdA was decimated, losing 22 seats, while the VVD also lost 14 seats. Unnoticed at the time, the Socialist Party (SP), a radical left party which had begun as an obscure Maoist cell in the 1970s, gained 4 seats to win a total of 9 (it had first entered Parliament in 1994 and made gains in 1998). Ironically, the most lasting immediate result of the Purple government’s collapse was the CDA’s resurgence and re-installation in power for 8 years. Although it had performed very poorly in opposition since 1994, the CDA benefited from its time-honoured place in the centre and became a safe, moderate option for many voters seeking stability. The CDA’s leader, Jan-Peter Balkenende, a largely uninspiring and terribly bland leader, became Prime Minister in a short-lived coalition with the VVD and LPF.
However, the LPF, lacking its charismatic leader, quickly became a clown show and new elections in 2003 saw the LPF collapse to only 8 seats (and would proceed to disintegrate completely by 2006), while the traditional parties – CDA, VVD and especially Labour – regained some lost ground. Balkenende replaced LPF with D66, which had been further weakened in the elections (to 6 seats, after having been halved in 2002). Balkenende gained a reputation for being a teflon politician, given that few people ever thought much of him and he was a poor leader, surviving the premature of his cabinet in 2006 (D66 withdrew) and managing to form another cabinet (this time with the PvdA and a small Christian party) after the early elections in 2006.
The Purple government and Fortuyn’s success have both dramatically altered political dynamics in the Netherlands, making them even more fragmented and volatile.
Fortuyn’s anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric has continued to be a central issue in Dutch political debate, reignited by particular events such as the 2004 assassination of controversial anti-Islam filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Politically, Fortuyn’s place was taken up by Geert Wilders, a former VVD MP who founded his own party, the Party for Freedom (PVV) in 2006 and won 9 seats in that year’s election. Wilders is a more traditional far-right leader, although like Fortuyn, Wilders is a charismatic and abrasive character whose party still revolves almost entirely around his personality, his mood swings and his favourite art of provocation. The PVV gained national (and international) attention by successfully (but temporarily) monopolizing debate on immigration issues and by taking up various wedge issues – banning dual citizenship, a burqa ban, a ban on the Quran, comparing Islam to totalitarian ideologies and generic attacks on Muslim immigrants (and, more recently, Eastern European workers). Like the LPF, the PVV may sometimes couch its rhetoric in social liberal language, although Wilders is a more typical right-wing populist than Fortuyn. Economically, Wilders started out on the right, supporting economic liberalism – similar to the early hard-right positioning of the FN in France in 1984 – but, like the FN, has shifted to idiosyncratic/syncretic economic stances often misleadingly said to be ‘centrist’ or ‘left-wing’. The PVV supports tax cuts, spending cuts in certain area (environmental program, foreign aid, development etc), simplifying business and ‘welfare chauvinist’ positions (limiting access to welfare benefits); but it also moved towards supporting many welfare measures or interventionist policies (child benefits, unemployment benefits unchanged, retirement age kept at 65). The PVV revolves entirely around Wilders, who is legally the party’s sole member – a unique party model, perhaps comparable only to Silvio Berlusconi’s very early Forza Italia in 1994. Wilders vets the PVV’s candidate himself, there is no party democracy and the PVV has not built a local base – in fact, even in the March 2014 local elections, the PVV competed in only two (The Hague and Almere) municipalities out of 403.
In the past decade, Dutch voters have built no strong links with any party, and switched back and forth between parties in between and during elections – although most of the swings have been within blocs, with battles on the left, right and now centre for dominance. In 2006, the SP, benefiting from the CDA government’s unpopular welfare reforms and the PvdA’s poor performance, won a record 16.6% and 25 seats but neither the SP nor the CDA had any interest in government cooperation and the SP’s support fell substantially. In 2009, Wilders’ PVV surged to 17% in the EP elections. Balkenende’s government once again collapsed prematurely in 2010, after the PvdA rejected an extension of the Dutch mission in Afghanistan agreed upon by the CDA’s Balkenende and heir-apparent, foreign minister Maxime Verhagen. By that point, Balkenende had reached his expiry date and, having failed to lead any one of his governments to their full terms, now appeared as a very weak and indecisive leader. Therefore, in the 2010 early elections, the CDA collapsed into fourth place – winning 13.6% and 21 seats, the worst result in the party’s history. Meanwhile, Wilders’ PVV surged to 15.5% and 24 seats. The other major winner was the right-liberal VVD, which had tacked right on immigration issues as well, and placed first – an historic feat for Dutch liberals – with 20.5% and 31 seats. The SP lost heavily (-10 seats), D66 began its recovery after four disastrous elections (+7 seats).
Following tortuous coalition negotiations, VVD leader Mark Rutte formed a minority government with the CDA, which received the outside support of the PVV. While the PVV quickly indicated that it felt no deep obligation towards the cabinet, Wilders basically agreed to support Rutte’s stringent austerity measures in exchange for much stricter immigration laws. The government therefore both severely tightened immigration laws and adopted austerity measures aimed at reducing the Netherlands’ deficit from 5.1% of GDP to the EU level of 3%. Wilders’ support continued to push towards the VVD, to the dismay of certain moderate liberals. For example, Rutte became a ‘hawk’ in EU bailout negotiations and in 2012 said that he would inflexibly oppose any new transfer of sovereignty to the EU. The VVD, always torn between liberals and conservatives or populist-liberals and progressive liberals, has now become one of the most right-wing and Eurocritical parties in the European liberal family (ALDE) and may perhaps be more easily comparable to David Cameron’s Tories.
With these policies, Rutte’s first government was certainly one of the most right-wing governments in Dutch history, and was extremely unpopular with the left – either for its deep budget cuts, its anti-immigration policy, its association with Wilders or all three. Economically, the opposition blamed the government’s austerity policies for throwing the Netherlands, which had escaped fairly well from the 2009 recession, into a double-dip recession with -1.2% negative growth in 2012.
Politically, the government caused problems for both the CDA and the PVV. For the CDA, their issues were quite straightforward: they continued to disingenuously claim they were centrists while supporting a very right-wing government devastated its remaining credibility and indirect cooperation with the PVV caused major strains in the CDA, particularly with the centre-left minority within the party which never wanted to go into government in the first place. For the PVV, the party’s profile began to fade after a few Wilder missteps (notably criticizing the Queen for wearing a veil while in Oman and launching a quite crass new vendetta against Eastern Europeans) and less interest on immigration/Islam (which were huge issues in 2010). In April 2012, Wilders pulled the plug on the government, unwilling to accept a new round of austerity policies and claiming that austerity would have a negative impact on social programs, notably old age security. Wilders unsuccessfully tried to adopt a new anti-EU, anti-euro and anti-austerity creed. The PVV now advocates total withdrawal from the EU and the Eurozone, and Wilders famously associated himself with Marine Le Pen’s FN.
The early 2012 elections are a textbook example of the Dutch’s electorate volatility. The campaign started out as a contest between Mark Rutte’s VVD and Emile Roemer’s SP, which had surged into a strong second or even first place in polls as the PvdA again struggled in opposition. Rutte’s policies were disliked, but Rutte was seen in a positive light as being a genuine and ‘refreshing’ leader. Roemer had become the most vocal opponent of the government’s austerity, and his party’s populist and Eurosceptic rhetoric was ostensibly popular with voters. The left-wing populist SP strongly opposes austerity policies at home or in the EU, and while the SP does not advocate for full withdrawal from the EU, the party is very critical of the ‘EU superstate’ for its advocacy of austerity, corporate interests and its undemocratic workings (it is notably the only Dutch left-wing party which is Eurosceptic). The SP therefore opposes transfers of sovereignty to Brussels, the Stability and Growth Pact, it has been critical of freedom of movement (notably for Romanians and Bulgarians, because of social dumping), the Euro (it does not support withdrawal, but at the same time it doesn’t want to save it at all costs), neoliberal trade policies and the EU common market. Much (too much, probably) is often made of the ‘overlap’ between the PVV and the SP since both parties are anti-EU populists.
The PvdA, which has been on the verge of losing dominance of the left several times in the past few years, managed to turn the 2012 election around in its favour. The PvdA’s new moderate leader, Diederik Samsom, made a good impression in the debates while the SP’s soft support came apart as its platform was criticized (an independent analysis of the SP’s platform said it would result in many job loses). Therefore, there was a sudden and rapid reversal of fortunes for the SP late in the 2012 election – which became a ‘prime ministerial election’ between Rutte and the PvdA’s Samsom. At the polls, the VVD and PvdA both did very well due to strategic voting on the left and right. The VVD won a record-high result of 26.6% and 41 seats, while the PvdA won 24.8% and 38 seats. The SP ended up with a very disappointing result of 9.7% and 15 seats, no change on 2010. Wilders’ PVV suffered a (temporary) setback, falling to 10.1% and 15 seats. The CDA suffered another major thumping, winning a record-low 8.5% and only 13 seats. D66, with 8% and 12 seats, further improved its standing. One of the other major losers was GroenLinks (or GreenLeft), the green party founded in 1989 by the merger of four parties including the New Left-type Pacifist Socialists (PSP), the Christian left/moderate green Political Party of Radicals (PPR) and a recently destalinized Communist Party (CPN) which had embraced the New Left. Since its creation, the GreenLeft has become a much more moderate party, especially under the leaderships of Femke Halsema (2002-2010) and Jolande Sap (2010-2012). The party sidelined the ‘fundi’-type radical left factions, moderated its pacifism with the Kosovo and Afghanistan issues, made a major bid to appear as a respectable and responsible potential governing party and shifted towards a kind of post-materialistic progressive green liberalism (more ‘modern’ than the PvdA) under Halsema and Sap. Although Halsema was fairly successful, and the party won 10 seats in 2010, what did the party in was its 2012 decision to help the outgoing VVD-CDA government to pass its budget before snap elections (after the PVV left the coalition). The GreenLeft joined a ‘Kunduz coalition’ (named for the coalition of parties which approved the 2011 extension of the Dutch policing mission in Kunduz, Afghanistan) with the two governing parties, D66 and the ChristianUnion (CU). Although the GreenLeft managed to get environmental policies and a withdrawal of budget cuts to arts and culture, the damage was done and added to existing internal strife.
The coalition negotiations proved unusually short by Dutch standards, with the formation of a VVD/PvdA coalition government by November 2012. It is a Purple-type government, lacking D66 as a ‘mediator’. Since 2012, the Dutch electorate has been tremendously volatile with one key underlying trend – both governing parties have become extremely unpopular and would be headed to a landslide defeat in the next election. The PvdA quickly lost the ‘additional’ strategic votes it had won from the left. The VVD’s support suddenly collapsed in November 2012 after the coalition agreement talked about increased health premiums for high-income earners – the VVD’s core electorate.
The Purple-ish Rutte II government has since continued with austerity policies (perhaps slightly less ‘extreme’ than those of his first right-wing cabinet) while the economy has continued to struggle. The economy shrank by 0.8% in 2013 but should grow by 1.2% in 2014; unemployment has grown from about 4% in 2011 to a projected high of 7.4% this year. The country’s deficit is now below the EU’s 3% limit (-2.5%), exports are doing well and the debt is not huge (73.8%); instead, what has been dragging the economy has been the very high levels of household debts (110% of GDP, encouraged by fully tax-deductible interest payments on mortgages) creating low consumer confidence and public consumption. Following a significant slump in house prices, 16% of households owed mortgages higher than the value of their house. European Commissioner Olli Rehn has cheered on the government’s spending cuts and austerity, even demanding that they cut even more, but many have said that the cuts serve to further undermine consumer confidence and worsening the economy.
The government has continued to take hardline stances in the Eurozone crisis. The PvdA finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, is the new president of the Eurogroup and was seen as responsible for the (disastrous) tough position against Cyprus in 2013. The current President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, has said that Rutte threatened to leave the Eurozone in 2012 if the EU pushed through a ‘reform package’.
The PvdA ‘talked left’ (left-ish, to be fair: Samsom, at the time, was compared to François Hollande – when that comparison wasn’t an insult! – and still does remind me of Hollande) in 2012 but has since definitely ‘walked right’; the party has always been quite moderate since 1994, pragmatically supporting economically liberal, free-market policies when it is in government. The party has a real threat to its left in the form of the SP, but it also has the imperative to be moderate if it is to be in governments (bad memories of 1977, when a very strong but quite left-wing PvdA under Prime Minister Joop den Uyl found itself removed from power by a CDA-VVD coalition because its demands were too much for the CDA) and also has rivals to its right (in the form of D66). How can the PvdA ‘hold the left’ while remaining centrist enough for government?
In polls, Wilders’ PVV, whose radical anti-EU platform seemed to be working, surged to new heights – up to 27-31 seats in polls, leading the field or tied with the VVD. On the left, the PvdA’s numbers have tanked, now being pegged below 20 seats in all but one poll in 2014, and being outpolled by the SP, which has polled up to 24-25 seats.
The EP elections were preceded by local elections in March 2014. Besides local parties, a fixture of Dutch local politics (especially in the Catholic south), the main winners were D66 and the SP while the clear losers were the governing VVD and PvdA. The VVD’s support fell from 15.7% to 12.2%, while the PvdA fell from 15.7% to 10.3%; on the other hand, the SP increased its vote share from 4.1% to 6.6% and D66 went from 8.2% to 12.1%, surpassing the PvdA and falling right below the CDA and VVD. D66 won eye-catching victories in three of the country’s four largest cities: Amsterdam – a stronghold of the PvdA/SDAP for nearly 100 years, The Hague and Utrecht. In Amsterdam, D66 doubled its caucus from 7 to 14 councillors, while the PvdA lost 5 and ended up with 10. The SP, with 6 councillors in Amsterdam, also doubled its caucus. In The Hague, D66 won 8 seats (+2) against 7 for the PVV (-1) and 6 for Labour (-4). In Utrecht, D66 displaced the GreenLeft to become the largest party, with 13 seats (+4) against 9 for the GreenLeft (-1) and 5 for Labour (-4). In Rotterdam, the local party Leefbaar Rotterdam – a right-populist party formerly led by Pim Fortuyn which first broke through in the old Labour stronghold in 2002 – won 14 seats (nc) against a disastrous 8 for Labour (-6) and 6 for D66 (+2). The SP did well in smaller towns, although it became the largest party in the leftist university town of Nijmegen. In Amsterdam, D66 has since formed an unusual coalition with the VVD and SP to remove the PvdA from power.
The PvdA suffered historic, first-in-a-generation loses in many cities – Amsterdam but also Groningen, Enschede, Deventer, the northeastern provinces and a further collapse in Rotterdam. It was therefore ousted from government in cities where it had been in power for over 6 decades – Amsterdam, Utrecht, Maastricht. The VVD also suffered some major loses, although its loses were often due to local squabbles.
However, the main takeaway by the foreign media from these local elections was another outburst by Wilders, whose party ran in only two municipalities and lost votes in both. Playing a crowd of supporters in The Hague, Wilders asked his supporters if they wanted ‘more or less’ Moroccans in the city and the country, to which his supporters elatedly answered ‘fewer!’. Wilders promised them that “we’ll arrange that”, clearly implying that he wanted to deport all Moroccans from the country. His little circus backfired terribly: two PVV MPs, one MEP and 8 of the PVV’s 9 councillors in Almere left the party over Wilders’ comments. The PVV’s numbers in polls declined, although there was no ‘meltdown’ – like other far-right parties, the PVV’s support is increasingly resilient and resistant to their leaders mouthing off. Nevertheless, the comments further isolated the PVV. The CDA, still reeling from the effects of its indirect coalition with the PVV, has shifted towards the centre with pro-European and pro-immigration positions and has explicitly ruled out a future coalition with the PVV. Rutte’s VVD was the last party still open to working with the PVV, but after the Wilders outburst, Rutte publicly condemned Wilders’ comments and ruled out a coalition with the PVV.
The EP elections were marked by low turnout (in a country where turnout is still quite high in parliamentary elections), with only 37.3% turning out, a bit more than in 2009. The local elections in March saw all-time low turnout of 54%. Low turnout obviously favours the parties with the most disciplined and loyal electorates – the CDA and the small Christian parties, most significantly – while it hurts parties such as the PVV whose electorate does not turn out loyally. All major parties except the GreenLeft, Party for the Animals (PvdD) and pensioners’ party 50PLUS won less votes than in 2012.
The big winner of the EP elections was D66, which won 15.5% – one of the party’s best share of the vote in any national election – and gained one seat (electing 4 MEPs). D66, which was in a severe slump between 1998 and 2006, has been gaining strength – fairly slowly, but surely – since the 2006 election. The centrist party can be in a rather enviable and beneficial position when it is in opposition – it is often known as the ‘second choice party’ in the Netherlands, and has the ability to attract a lot of well-educated, middle-to-high income urban voters with little loyalty to any party. From the left, it can take centrist-leaning urban voters from the PvdA; from the right, it can take moderate affluent liberal voters from the VVD (and some economically centrist votes from the CDA) – and can top that off with some centrist green liberal voters from the GreenLeft, whose electoral clientele is broadly similar to that of D66. In governments, D66 tends to lose its distinctiveness and attractiveness to annoyed voters of governing party. In opposition, D66 leader Alexander Pechtold gained a profile and popularity on the centre/centre-left as the most vocal opponent of Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration and anti-EU politics. The PVV and D66 are polar opposites, in terms of ideology and voters: the former is anti-EU, anti-immigration, fairly socially conservative and backed by low-income, less educated oters; the latter is strongly pro-EU (federalist), enthusiastically pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism, very progressive on ‘social issues’ and liberal on economic matters, supported by well-educated, high-income voters in urban centres.
Since D66’s success at the local polls in March, the party has leaped into first place in polls and it has been maintaining a stable yet extremely narrow lead over other parties (at most +4 seats) since then. Historically, D66 polls well in mid-term votes, but its support – like in 2010 – may decline as national elections draw nearer, with right and left-wing supporters opting to vote strategically instead.
Traditionally a centre-left (left-liberal) progressive party defined by its secular, reformist, socially liberal and pro-immigration views, D66 has shifted towards the right on economic matters in recent years. Not all that surprisingly for a moderate social liberal party – similar to Denmark’s Radikale Venstre – D66 supports balanced budgets, flexible labour laws, free markets, economic liberalization and doing away with some older aspects of the welfare state (in Amsterdam, for example, it campaigned to privatize the property market while the PvdA supports the city’s publicly-subsidized non-profit housing corporations) although at the same time it is very big on investing more in education/R&D. The party remains very strongly pro-EU, pro-immigration and socially liberal. Traditionally placed either on the right of the centre-left or in the centre, D66 appears to be an increasingly centrist party.
While the PVV and SP have opposed the current government at every turn, D66 has been selling itself as a ‘constructive opposition party’ and, in the Senate, where the VVD-PvdA lack a majority, D66 has sometimes collaborated with the government parties to help them pass their legislation in exchange for concessions on pet issues like education (the Christian parties have also helped the government). D66 had already been a ‘constructive ally’ of a CDA-PvdA government between 1989 and 1994, and that had led them to their record-high result of 15.5% and 24 seats in the 1994 election.
The CDA came in second in the vote share, with 15.2%, but because the CDA had an electoral alliance with the CU-SGP and 50PLUS (where their votes are pooled together and treated as a single party for purposes of seat allocation), it won 5 seats – one more than D66, which placed narrowly ahead of the CDA in terms of votes. It is a mixed result for the CDA – on the plus side, the party lands in a symbolic second after the fifth-place humiliation in 2012 and its result is higher than in 2012 (8.5%) although only in terms of share of the vote; on the downside, the CDA’s result is down 4.9% from the 2009 EP election and the CDA could be expected to perform well in a low-turnout election because its old, largely rural and religious electorate turns out more reliably than most. CDA leader Sybrand Buma, a Frisian Protestant, was elated by the CDA’s relative decent showing in the March local elections (where the CDA lost only marginally from the last local elections in 2010); never mind that the local elections were the CDA’s worst performance in local elections – and now these EP elections are still the CDA’s worst performance in a EP election. Under Sybrand Buma, the CDA has moved back towards the centre – the ‘radical centre’ – and pro-EU, social justice talk to make everybody forget the disastrous trauma of the Rutte I government for the CDA. If national polls are to be trusted, it has worked some, because the CDA could win up to 22 seats in the next election (that would be an historically poor result, equivalent to the CDA’s result in 2010) – so while it has recovered some voters, who likely went (strategically) for the VVD in 2012, it has failed to breakthrough and find those ‘floating’ middle-class suburbanites who had voted CDA in the mid-2000s. The centrist shift may have worked, but it may also look as if the CDA is a party which is willing to say or do anything to remain in power.
The PVV had a surprisingly disappointing result, winning only 13.3% of the vote, down 3.7% from the PVV’s breakthrough performance in the 2009 EP elections. Given that Wilders’ party is still on track to win a strong result in the next election – the PVV is currently pegged at roughly 20-24 seats (slightly below its 2010 result) – the PVV’s poor performance in the EP elections is likely more a sign of differential turnout, with the PVV’s protest voters lacking the motivation to go out and vote, than a clear trend. Turnout was indeed lower in regions where the PVV is strong – 28.2% in Rotterdam (where the PVV won 18.7%), 30.5% in Almere (where the PVV won 18.9%), 33.6% in the southern province of Limburg and 34% in the northern province of North Brabant.
Differential turnout may also explain why the SP did not do as well as it could have in a high-turnout national election. Although the Socialists landed ahead of the PvdA in the vote count – but the PvdA saved their third seat because of an electoral alliance with the GreenLeft – its result is below its current national polling average (20-22 seats, which would likely about 12-14% of the vote). Turnout was low where the SP does well, notably in the party’s southern strongholds (the provinces of North Brabant and Limburg, with 11.8% and 12.7% of the vote this year) or the poor municipalities of eastern Groningen province along the German province in the northeast.
The governing parties – VVD and PvdA, especially the latter – did poorly. Although the VVD’s result is up marginally on the party’s poor showing in 2009, if you compare to the VVD’s results in 2012 (26.6%) and 2010 (20.5%) it is a poor result for Prime Minister Rutte’s party, which has likely lost some votes to D66 (and even more to abstention, given that D66 did not win more votes than in 2012). The real loser was the governing PvdA, which won only 9.4% – by far, the party’s worst result both in terms of raw votes and percentage of the vote, in a national election. Because of an electoral alliance with the GreenLeft, it managed to retain its three MEPs. As was likely predictable from the moment the PvdA signed up for a Purple-ish coalition with the VVD in 2012, on a platform which included a good dose of austerity, it suffered major loses both to its left and right. The PvdA has been decimated with working-class, low-income voters alienated by the party’s liberal economic policies in government: an old poll in February showed that the PvdA’s support with low-income voters has collapsed from 29% to 12%, while the SP’s support with these voters increased from 18% to 24% since 2012. Labour’s support with low-education voters has also collapsed, again largely in favour of the SP and the PVV (although the PvdA itself likely has lost more to the radical left than the far-right since 2012). On the other hand, Labour has also suffered an outflow of well-educated, higher-income voters to D66 – with highly educated voters, the PvdA’s support fell from 26% to 10% with D66 moving up from 14% to 25%. The PvdA would likely win about 9% and 12-14 seats if an election was held tomorrow. Of course, the PvdA has seen bad times before, and, as we saw in 2012, managed to spectacularly recover. For most of 2012, the PvdA languished in fourth or worse place behind the SP, and then recovered very nicely at the SP’s expense. However, this time might be quite different…
The ChristianUnion (CU) and Reformed Political Party (SGP) are two small orthodox Protestant (neo-Calvinist) parties, who run together in EP elections since 1984 but who remain two separate parties in national elections. The CU, founded in 2001, was formed by the merger of two small orthodox Protestant parties – one of them a sectarian party formed by ex-ARP members of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated), dissidents from Kuyper’s Gereformeerde Kerken in 1948, the other a very similar party formed by ARP members who opposed the merger with the Catholics in 1975. The SGP is the oldest continuously-existing party, formed in 1918, by orthodox Protestant members of the ARP in opposition to female suffrage. The SGP is the best example of what the Dutch commonly call ‘testimonial parties’ – ideological parties focused on representing their principles and not pursuing coalition participation. The SGP represents the most orthodox and traditionalist members of bevindelijk gereformeerden churches and groups – fairly obscure (even to most Dutch!) orthodox Protestant/Calvinist groups emphasizing personal religious experiences and who remain loyal to traditions and old customs, rejecting some new technologies and scientific developments. While the CU is a more ‘modern’ party and not a testimonial party (having participated in the last Balkenende government), it remains very conservative on social issues (abortion, drugs, families, homosexuality, euthanasia, prostitution) but its interpretation of the Bible and the Gospel leads it to centre-left views on economic matters, immigration, foreign aid and the environment. The CU has criticized Wilders’ appeals to Judeo-Christian values in the past. The SGP is one of Europe’s most unique parties – the party famously banned women from joining until the courts forced it to accept them back in 2005 and its website is closed on Sundays. It has very conservative views on social issues, rejects freedom of religion (we should settle for freedom of conscience instead) and the SGP’s avowed end goal remains a Protestant theocratic state. In recent years, the SGP has kind of exchanged its traditional anti-papism/anti-Catholicism for anti-secularism and anti-Islamism. It has a very ambiguous relationship with Wilders’ PVV, at times joining him in opposing Islam and ‘Islamization of the Netherlands’ but remaining somewhat reticent to fully join him, likely realizing that some of the religious traditions which some of the SGP defends for its voters are quite similar to some Muslim religious traditions which the PVV incessantly denounces. Both the CU and the SGP have been ‘constructive opposition’ parties since 2010, helping the VVD-CDA and now VVD-PvdA governments to pass some pieces of legislation in the Senate. The SGP has never participated in government (but came very close in 2003) and likely never will.
The SGP has an extremely stable electorate, having won two or three MPs in every elections since 1925 – the SGP has a small, loyal and high-turnout base but it has extremely little appeal to other parties (it likely exchanges voters only with the CU and CDA, and even then); the CU has a wider and slightly less stable clientele, similarly religious but with more outreach to conservative and religious voters who may find the SGP a bit too much. Both parties are heavily concentrated in the Netherlands’ Bible Belt, a central chain running from Zeeland to northern Overijssel.
In a low-turnout EP election, the CU/SGP did well, improving from a combined result of 5.2% in 2012 to 7.7% in 2014, because of both parties’ ability to hold their reliable, loyal and high-turnout voters. In 2009, the CU joined the ECR group while the SGP, apparently because of its views on women, was unable to join and instead went to EFD. The SGP has now joined the ECR – the British Conservatives’ inconvenient group allies in the EP can now include a theocratic party!
The GreenLeft had, like in the local elections, a mixed result. On the one hand, its performance is down on the last EP election and that means that the GL loses one MEP and about 2% from the 2009 election. On the other hand, the GreenLeft has begun recovering from the 2012 rout, being one of the few parties to actually win more raw votes in the EP election than in the last national election and boosting its vote share from 2.3% to 6.9% – although it may end up with less than that in a national election, as many of its leftist supporters will end up voting strategically. The GL suffered a few bad months after the 2012 disaster, as the internal bickering continued – GL leader Jolande Sap, held responsible for the disaster because of her ill-advised cooperation with the centre-right government in 2012 and psychodrama in the party, was forced against her will. Her successor, Bram van Ojik, an old-timer who comes from the PPR, has kept a low-profile and steered clear on controversy, aiming to rebuild the GL through hard work in Parliament. Sooner or later, however, the GL will likely need to face the issue of what kind of party it wants to be – being a social liberal, green progressive party can’t be it, because those kinds of voters can already vote D66.
Another ‘testimonial party’ – although of a very different kind – joined the EP. The Party for the Animals (PvdD), a small animal’s rights party which has had seats in the Dutch lower house since 2006, won 4.2% of the vote (a result significantly above what it wins in national elections), thereby passing the unofficial 4% threshold to get a seat. The PvdD is predominantly a single-issue party (animal rights, vegetarianism) whose focus is expanding awareness of the issues it promotes and helping other similar parties around the world to grow in size (it is the only animal’s rights party in the world with parliamentarians). The party is moderately Eurosceptic, although from an interesting and unique standpoint of the poor conditions of animal welfare in the EU. The party has joined the GUE/NGL, like the new animal rights MEP from Germany.
50PLUS, a new-ish populist pensioners’ party with 2 MPs, won 3.7%, falling just short of a seat. A nice symbol of the volatility of Dutch politics – 50PLUS actually experienced a brief surge, peaking at about 20 seats, in early and mid-2013.
The NRC has interactive maps of the results by municipality, and shaded maps showing the parties’ votes and changes in their vote share from 2009. D66 dominated urban areas – the party won the cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Breda, Nijmegen, Enschede, Apeldoorn, Haarlem, Amersfoort, Arnhem, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Zwolle. The party won its best results in the highly-educated university towns of Utrecht (26.2%), Leiden (25.6%), Amsterdam (24.8%), Delft (24.6%), Wageningen (22.7%) and Groningen (21.2%). In cities, D66’s electorate is predominantly made up of well-educated, high-income (upper middle-class) young professionals – while there is a large overlap with the GreenLeft, the GL usually does better with less affluent well-educated young people (most likely recent graduates, mid-level public servants, teachers, NGO workers, and poor-yet-hip young urbanites) while it doesn’t have D66’s support in affluent elite neighborhoods and suburbs. This year, D66 also did extremely well in some affluent communities in the Randstad (het Gooi) and across the country – 26.4% in Bloemendaal (North Holland), 25% in Bussum, 25.3% in Naarden, 24.6% in Heemstede, 26.9% in Oegstgeest (in South Holland, right outside Leiden), 25.2% in Muiden but also 23.7% in Haren, an affluent town outside of Gronigen and the most affluent region in the poor provinces of the northern Netherlands. These results indicate that D66 likely ate into the VVD’s traditional electorate in its affluent suburban bases. Outside of the urbanized Randstad mix of cities and suburbs and other cities in the country, D66’s support in rural and poorer regions is significantly lower.
The CDA has held on to a predominantly rural and elderly electorate, heavily concentrated in the eastern provinces (Overijssel, 25.5%; Friesland, 20.8%; Limburg, 20.4%) while it did very poorly in the urbanized provinces (North Holland, 9.99% and fifth; South Holland, 12.4% and fourth; Utrecht 12.6% and third) and even worse in the actual cities (4.1% in Amsterdam, eight behind the PvdD; 6.9% in Utrecht; 6.5% in Almere; 8.5% in Rotterdam and 8.4% the Hague). The CDA has retained its Protestant electorate better than its Catholic vote in the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant, where a lot of the vote has gone towards populist parties such as the PVV and the SP. The CDA’s remaining strongholds in the east reflect rural and elderly Protestant and Catholic areas, former strongholds of the old ARP (or CHU) in the north or, less often, the Catholic KVP. Compared to 2009, the CDA lost heavily in Catholic areas in the south but it made some gains in a small region in eastern Overijssel which is largely Catholic.
The PVV has a very regionally composite electorate, with the common strand throughout these regions and voters being lower levels of education, generally lower levels of income (although the PVV’s support is less defined by income than the SP, and may pull low-income white working-class voters in cities as well as ‘worried’ or ‘excluded’ lower middle-classes in ‘growth centres’ and suburbs) and blue collar occupations (construction, distribution, manufacturing, transportation, sometimes agriculture). The PVV remained the strongest party in the province of Limburg, Wilders’ native province (and a bit of his support there is a favourite son vote, in a Catholic region which has tended to like personalities more than parties), with particularly strong support in his native Venlo (23.5%) and the old mining basin in southwestern Limburg (peaking at 31.5% in Kerkrade) – regions where local employment has been under severe pressure and strains for quite some time. In the urbanized Randstad, the PVV topped the poll in Rotterdam with 18.7% against 17.6% for D66 (the PVV’s support is down from 22.7% in 2009), making it the largest city in the country where D66 did not come first. Compared to Amsterdam, the large industrial port city of Rotterdam is a less gentrified city, retaining a larger white working-class alongside a very large population of non-western foreigners (36.7%). The PVV also placed first with 28.3% in Spijkenisse and 23.5% in Schiedam, two lower-income suburban municipalities outside of Rotterdam. The PVV placed a close second with 15.4% in The Hague, one of the most socially mixed cities in the country, combining some affluent seafront communities, a progressive downtown, some of the poorest immigrant neighborhoods in the country and old working-class villages. With 16.1%, the PVV was the largest party in the Zaanstad, a municipality made up of Amsterdam’s old working-class industrial suburbs.
Despite losing nearly 10 points from 2009, the PVV topped the poll in Almere (with 18.9%) – a planned city on the artificial islands of Flevoland built in the 1970s-1980s as suburbs for Amsterdam. In Almere, the PVV performs best in the older neighborhoods, where local middle-classes who face long commutes to work are worried about the deterioration of their neighborhoods and social decline (and immigrants: a lot of Amsterdam’s newer suburbs, such as Almere but also Purmerend, where the PVV also placed first with over 20%, are ‘white flight’ communities). The PVV polls well in stagnating old industrial and peripheral areas – Helmond (North Brabant, 21.6%), Roosendaal (North Brabant, 20.3%) or Delfzijl (Groningen, 15.6%); as well as the middle-class ‘growth centres’ which swelled in the 1980s to accommodate Holland’s suburban growth – 18.7% in Zoetermeer (outside the Hague) and 24.7% in Hellevoetsluis (South Holland).
The PVV also did well in the left-wing oriented eastern regions of the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe provinces, areas which used to be Communist and Labour strongholds (the region has been voting for the left since 1918). This is a poor region (one of the poorest, in fact – the poorest municipality in the country seems to be Pekela, which is located in the province of Groningen) with high unemployment, historically marked by large farms (often peat bogs) owned by a small elite of landowners employing many poor landless seasonal agricultural labourers and later by small factories or paper mills (many of which have since closed). Some regions, such as the town of Finsterwolde (now in the Oldambt municipality), were Communist strongholds (the CPN won over 50% in Finstertwolde until 1981!) – in fact, the NCPN (the hardliner communist party formed by anti-GL activists) still won over 50% in the 1994 local elections in the Reiderland and was still the largest party in 2002 but got supplanted by an even more hardline splinter party of their own, the United Communist Party (VCP) which nevertheless became the second largest party in the Oldambt municipality in 2014, behind the SP, with 16% and 4 seats (a gain of 2). The region has given high support to protest parties in the past – the LPF in 2002 did very well, for example. The PVV won 22.7% in Pekela, 15.4% in the Oldambt, 19.2% in Vlagtwedde and 16.5% in Bellingwedde. It also gave strong results for the SP – which was the largest party in the Oldambt and Bellingwedde (with 19%), among a few other towns. The animal’s party (PvdD) also did well – with over 5% in Vlagtwedde, Bellingwedde and Menterwolde; the PvdD’s stronger support in protest-oriented regions differentiates it from the other ‘green’ parties (D66 and GL), who are weak in these poor regions.
The PVV’s best municipality was Rucphen (North Brabant), with 37.5% – a town which has usually given strong support to past radical right parties (the Farmers’ Party in 1967 and the Centre Democrats in 1994, and which now gives huge numbers to the PVV, especially in Sint Willebrord, an old bricklayers’ and carpenters’ village. The PVV also won 34.8% in Edam-Voledam in North Holland, an old fishing community with a tradition of anti-government sentiments.
The VVD mostly topped the poll in its affluent suburban bastions – 27.3% in Wassenaar (outside The Hague), 30.4% in Laren, 25.6% in Blaricum, 29.5% in Rozendaal, 24.4% in Bloemendaal (but D66 topped the poll here).
The SP has a very strong historical base in the south, particularly in the northeast of the North Brabant province and northern Limburg. The municipality of Oss, a town with an industrial past, was home to SP’s first major leader Jan Marijnissen and the party has had councillors in Oss since 1976, back when the SP was a Maoist grouping polling 0.2% nationally. The SP has also performed strongly in nearby Boxmeer, home to SP’s current leader, Emile Roemer. In North Brabant, an old Catholic region where the KVP had a stranglehold on Catholics of all social classes until the 1960s and barred the PvdA from building a base, the SP has been able to build a strong base with low-income, working-class voters thanks to community work at the local level (providing money to charity groups, providing local doctors and the like). Catholicism in the south may have created a more conservative, hierarchical and authoritarian culture and could be leading to strong support for populist parties like the SP and PVV; or the SP’s style of politics – quite local and personality-based – may have partly replaced the clientelistic networks of the KVP. In any case, the south is more volatile and fickle than other regions, often serving to magnify national trends (for the PVV in 2010, for the SP in 2006 etc). This year, the SP won 11.8% in North Brabant and 12.7% in Limburg; the SP was the largest party in Oss (with 17.5%) and Gennep (21.2%, across the Meuse from Boxmeer in Limburg). Compared to 2009, some of the SP’s biggest gains came from Boxmeer and surrounding towns (the SP went from 14.4% to 24% in Boxmeer), reflecting the new personal vote for Roemer (who became leader in 2010). However, the SP has also gained a new base in the north – it won 12.9% in Groningen province (against 13.2% for the PvdA), as discussed above with strong results in these old leftist/communist bases. The SP also polls well in low-income urban areas – for example, it took 13.4% in Zaanstad and 14% in Spijkenisse. Its support in the very leftist university of Nijmegen (14.2%) comes mostly from the lower-income areas of the west end, the various pre-war and largely post-war developments.
The GreenLeft’s support is closely correlated to that of D66, with the differences noted above (notably: GL lacking D66’s appeal in wealthy suburbs, which makes GL an even more urban-based party). The GL won 16.3% and second in Amsterdam (in its old base, the PvdA won a disastrous third with 14.3%), 18.5% and second in Utrecht, 18.5% and second in Nijmegen, 19.9% and second in Nijmegen, 13.9% and second in Leiden and 14.2% and third in Groningen. The GL also has strong results in other well-educated progressive cities, such as Haarlem (12.1%) and Arnhem (11.5%).
The CU/SGP was the largest party in several municipalities in the Bible Belt, and even in the province of Zeeland (with 18.7%), where there are a lot of orthodox Protestants. The CU/SGP’s best result, unsurprisingly, came from the old fishing island (and famously parochial and close-knit village) of Urk (in Flevoland), a SGP stronghold where the two parties combined won 73.5%, up from 57.2% in 2009 due to gains from the CDA). Other strong results came from similar orthodox Protestant communities – Staphorst (57.2%), Nunspeet (48.1%), Bunschoten (45.7%) or Hardinxveld-Giessendam (49.2%) in the Bible Belt. In contrast, the CU/SGP found next to no support in the Catholic south (2.1% in North Brabant – and most of it came from four Protestant municipalities, 0.9% in Limburg) or the secular urban North Holland (2.6%). The Bible Belt’s very conservative culture can be noted on other non-political issues. For example, vaccination rates against mumps, measles and rubella are significantly lower in the Bible Belt (because vaccinations are seen as not trusting God as the guardian of diseases and other calamities) and the 2004-5 measles outbreak was concentrated in the Bible Belt.
The PvdD, as noted above, has stronger (comparatively) support in protest-oriented areas than D66 or the GL, but it also has a base in urban areas – it won 5.6% in North Holland and 6.1% in Amsterdam, although the correlation with university cities is weak: the PvdD did better in Almere (6.1%) than Utrecht (4.5%) or Wageningen (3.9%).
The EP elections show that Dutch politics today remain a fascinating mess. As of today, you have a practical five-way battle for first place (!) – D66 seems to be ahead, but narrowly; the VVD has definitely fallen off but not collapsed, the CDA has recovered but only weakly, the PVV strong although not as strong as in 2013 and the SP roughly pegged with the VVD, CDA and PVV. Naturally, as past experience shows, these trends are unlikely to hold up in a national election, and the PvdA – for example – could recover at the SP’s expense. In short, anything could happen.
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).
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.
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!).
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.
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/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.
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
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
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)
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/CDA/D66/CU: 77 (70 without CU)
The second and third options are the ones I would place my bets on.
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.
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.
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.
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.