Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

The 2006 parliamentary elections in The Netherlands have produced some interesting results. Another centre-right coalition of CDA, VVD and D66 (before the latter blew up that very same coalition, see comments) seems to be off the table and the formation of a new coalition will prove to be very difficult what with the votes spread out more evenly over the main parties. There are now four major contenders instead of three. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who will probably continue to be Prime Minister, will now have to consider forming either a left-leaning coalition or risk an unworkable monster coalition. From The Guardian:

The Netherlands is facing political deadlock after the governing Christian Democrats scraped an unconvincing win in yesterday’s election and parties on the hard left and right performed well enough to impede their ability to form a government. As political leaders braced themselves for weeks of horse-trading to form a coalition, the outgoing finance minister delivered a blunt assessment of the result.

“It’s chaos,” Gerrit Zalm, a member of the Liberal (VVD) party was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The real winner is the only party that actually did not participate, which is the party of the anarchists.”

A summary round-up of the results can be found below the fold.

The contenders:

The Christian Democrats of CDA lost 3 seats compared to 2003 but remain the largest party with 41 seats. The Dutch Labour party PvdA is still the second largest party but lost considerable ground to CDA, going from 42 to 32 seats*.

VVD, the Europe-style liberals, went from 28 to 22 seats, which cost them their third place in the party ranking. The SP (socialists) with the charismatic Jan Marijnissen, took that place with 26 seats* and can rightfully claim to be the big winners of the 2006 parliamentary elections since, in 2003, they only had 9 seats.

The outsiders:

Geert Wilders, the anti-immigration man and VVD renegade, is no longer a one-man party. With his new party PvdV-Groep Wilders (party for freedom, group Wilders) he managed to gain 9 seats. He is one of the winners in 2006 but will probably be excluded from the coalition talks since none of the main parties like him. Black sheep, cordon sanitaire, something like that. I think he managed to canvass the Dutch anti-immigration vote at the expense of some of his rivals (see “losers” below).

The green lefties of GroenLinks lost one seat and are now smaller than Geert Wilders’ party. Ouch, that must hurt. But they are still bigger than the Christian party ChristenUnie (6 seats).

Former coalition partner D66 lost half their seats, going from 6 to 3, and seemingly do not have much political leverage left.

The losers:

And what is left of the bastard offspring of Pim Fortuyn, the LPF, in the Tweede Kamer or House of Representatives? Nothing. Zero seats. The lack of bald-headed charisma finally did them in, I suppose. Or incompetence, or internal rows/division, or… whatever.

The new rightwing party EénNl, literally One Netherlands, even though that does not sound right in English, gained zero seats as well. It was to be expected when your party commander-in-chief published a political pamphlet called Tot uw dienst, a shameless, literal rip-off of Fortuyn’s famous line “at your service”.

Cool detail:

With 2 seats the PvdD (party for the animals) have written history, since they are the first animal rights party to appear in a European Parliament.

Time constraints prevent me from delving deeper, as usual, but I am sure our Dutch readers and Netherlands watchers, who are closer to all the action than I am, will provide more and better insights in the AFOE comments section.

PS: I would like to thank Dutch weblog Sargasso for providing a handy results table, which I used to write this post, and for their excellent work in keeping track of the many polls prior to the elections.

PS2: I found this article by Doug Saunders in the Canadian Globe and Mail interesting too. One quote:

So while yesterday’s vote saw dramatic gains by the centre-left Labour Party** and the left-wing Socialist Party, this is unlikely to have much impact on immigration policies, even if those parties are able to form a coalition.

There were other indications that the Dutch crisis of citizenship has ebbed. Polls showed that voters were far less concerned with issues of immigration than in any previous election since 2002, when Pim Fortuyn, a gay anti-immigration candidate who seemed poised to become prime minister, was assassinated by an animal-rights activist. That led to four years of intense concern about immigration.

But voters this year said they were more interested in the economy, which has recovered from a slump as a result of Mr. Balkenende’s austerity measures. The left-wing parties pledged to restore spending on social programs as a result of this recovery.

While the Labour Party, now the second-largest party in Parliament after Mr. Balkenende’s Christian Democrats, would grant an amnesty to thousands of refugee claimants, on the whole the left’s policies on immigration are as tough and restrictive as the right’s — indicating a consensus in Dutch society.

**Minor quibble. Personally, I do not really see any dramatic Labour gains, but maybe I missed something. In any case, it is Saunders’ point of view regarding the impact, or lack of impact, of immigration policies that interests me.

PS3: I almost forgot. There was a bit of a scandal when a so-called Pedophile Party was planning to take part in the elections. Guess what. The Dutch really aren’t that “liberal”. The party even failed to qualify for the elections. Apparently, they are now blaming the far right for their demise, once again proving how delusional these people are. Anyway, good riddance (hopefully).

PS4: Nanne of DJ Nozem has a fine post talking about the difficulties/possibilities in shaping a new coalition.

*UPDATE: Nanne has the final results. One SP (Socialist) seat has shifted to PvdA (Labour). SP have 25 seats and PvdA 33.

13 thoughts on “Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

  1. Just a small correction on the introduction: D66 (politically best comparable to the British LibDems) is no longer in government as they actually left the coalition over the Hirsi Ali passport case.
    Not sure if I would refer to VVD as “Europe-style Liberals” either. I do see what you mean (i.e. not American-style Liberals), but I would subdivide the European Liberal family into mostly market-oriented on the one hand (cf. Danish Venstre, Dutch VVD), and mostly individual freedom oriented on the other (Danish Radikale Venstre, Dutch D66, Flemish VLD, UK LibDems). The latter current used to be the bigger one on EU level. Not sure how it is right now.

    As for the Dutch election outcome, not sure what to think of it. It looks like the big winners are the navel-gazing close-your-eyes-for-the-big-bad-outside-worlders, both on the left with the protectionist SP socialists and on the right with racist Wilders’ oxymoronic “Freedom Party”. Even the big parties (CDA, VVD and PvdA) seem to have turned their backs on an ancient tradition of cosmopolitism, as none of them has shown anything close to leadership on the big European or geopolitical issues.

    None of the possible coalitions at this point is very attractive to the participants: SP won, but CDA and SP hate each other. PvdA (like CDA) lost but is indispensable for a majority and is unwilling to govern if SP remains in the opposition. All in all the most likely majority coalition right now seems the socialist-christian combination of CDA+PvdA+CU (the latter is a relatively small, economically leftwing but socially conservative christian party). Which means both economic and personal freedom in the Netherlands could be facing difficult times.

  2. Thank you for the clarification on D66. My head was in 2003 when I wrote this, but I should have pointed that out.

    The distinctions you draw between liberals are right too. Where would you put Libertarians?

  3. Libertarians, hmmm… I think I would put most of them on the extreme side of the market-oriented Liberals. People with a strange conception of “freedom”, IMHO. But then again, I am more the “Entre le fort et le faible, c’est la liberté qui opprime et la loi qui libère” kind of guy.

  4. It’s an interesting one in terms of voter behaviour. It seems to replicate the type of anti-politics attitude that marked the Referendum. It seems to me that in part people voted no in the referendum because there was no cost to doing so. There was no obvious way in which it would impact upon their wellbeing in any way, so they were not forced to make in depth choices about what was put before them. That was why many said that the Dutch electorate voted no, without being anti-EU (at least not in the sense that the French no vote appeared to mistrust the actual single market itself). Maybe the Dutch economy is so stable that people have now replicated this conduct in the general election, where normally you only see this in local elections, referendums and sometimes EP elections (see UKIP in the EP elections in the UK).

  5. I love the Gerrit Zalm quote. Heighten the contradictions!

    Bondwoman, how does the supposedly unserious attitude of the Dutch voters rhyme with the participation level, which was high in this election as well as in the referendum?

  6. Two things have happened in these elections:

    1) On the right, there has been a reshuffling of seats, with the eight seats the LPF had in 2003 joining Geert Wilders’ one seat for a total of nine for his new party, so really the right has gained nothing and in fact lost heavily if you look at the results of the mainstream rightwing parties too, with CDA and VVD both losing seats.

    2) But the biggest news of these elections is the swing to the left, with PvdA, SP and GroenLinks, having more seats now together than they did in 2003 which is of course due entirely to the SP, the only one of those three which has been running on a consistent leftwing, socialist platform. The PvdA had been campaigning with too much of an eye of forming a future government and hence being a little bit too centrist and GroenLinks just sinking further into irrelevancy, staying stable or losing slightly for a number of elections now.

    Take with this two related developments, the swing of three seats from the CDA to the more leftist appearing ChristenUnie (which is still rabidly rightwing on things like abortus and gay marriage but at least remembers Jesus liked to feed the hungry as well) and the ongoing destruction of left-liberal new politics for forty years D66 and what do you get?

    A repudation of the neoliberal consensus that has ruled the Netherlands for the past 25 years in favour of parties that actually, you know, believe the government is capable of making sure all its people share in economic prosperity.

    The puzzle now is going to be how this is going to be translated into the new government; just because the SP is the winner of the elections is no guarantee whatsoever that it will end up in government.
    The CDA as the biggest party will take the lead and they’re devious and experienced enough to end up with any coalition they like, just as they did in 2003, when they made sure that election’s big winner, the PvdA, would not share power…

    The other problem facing the country now is the continuing presence of a large minority of Islamophobic voters and the tensions this causes in society. Though their representatives may change every other election, they won’t go away…

  7. Oh dear, those “devious” christian democrats again. Seems the bias of the poster is showing, then again we all have our own bias.

    Isn´t it interesting how the term ´neoliberal´* is always bandied about when it comes to economic reforms they don´t know much about themselves but somehow it “must-be-really-bad” because the opposition says so, so they don´t like it either?

    P.S
    Somehow that ´consensus´ has worked in sharing prosperity. Dutch poverty has actually declined in the last 25 years, just check some recent issues of the ESB in the library Mr. Wisse.

  8. I prefer using the word “post-war consensus”, Mr. Wisse. Neoliberal is not the word when describing D66. The result of the post-war consensus is a freer and tolerant Netherlands with a strong social safety net. As the Netherlands moved closer to the EU under the policy of Lubbers and Kok, a “post-modern response” began to emerge with the Socialist Party and Pim Fortuyn becoming increasingly popular as they seek to maximize the political fringe and reinforce what the “Dutch identity” is for disenchanted voters.

    No, I don’t see the SP becoming a part of the Balkenende government this time. They can afford to sit in opposition and wait for more disgruntled Labour supporters to come their way in order to gain power in the next election. A grand coalition between the CDA and the PvdA will probably be formed that will try to salvage what remains of the so-called “post-war consensus”. I personally have doubts as to whether the ChristenUnie would be susceptible to joining a future government, given its rabid anti-EU stance.

  9. The consensus developing in the country is in fact that the election result has to be interpreted as a drift away from liberal policies, though perhaps not in the left-wing sense Martin means.

    So much is clear that voters in the Netherlands moved away from the centre, from the diluted christian-democratic, social-democratic and conservative mainstream parties to the non-diluted christian, socialist and anti-immigrant “originals”. As if voters in each of these “pillars” wanted to make a clear statement about their intentions.

    One of the comments I read pointed out another trend: what the winning parties have in common is that they all have a “communitarian” or even nationalist streak: the Christian Union with their old-fashioned christian values and their social policies, the Socialist Party with their protectionism, their emphasis on smaller scales in education and health care, and also on values, and even Wilders with his xenophobic Dutch nationalism. Reversely, the losing parties are those that concentrate on individual liberty and self-fulfilment, who see globalisation as an opportunity rather than a threat and have an open view to the world and Europe.

    Including the Christian Democrats, conservative-communitarian parties won 19 seats in the general election, which gives them a comfortable majority of 85 seats. Dutch voters are afraid of the world – and they voted for parties telling them they can make it go away.

  10. Don’t tell me poverty has declined when we have a bloody foodbank in the apartement I used to live in two years ago!

    There weren’t any anywhere in the Netherlands 25 years ago.

  11. Martin, if you’d followed the media coverage on this, you would know that the rise of the number of foodbanks has little to do with actual poverty levels because CBS statistics show that the latter have actually *decreased* in recent years.

    There are more foodbanks because the concept was introduced a few years ago, and their number has increased because the idea has caught on – not because the need for foodbanks is greater than it used to be.

    PS Guy, I am missing a lengthy comment I wrote yesterday – don’t hope something went wrong when I posted it…

  12. Eulogist, is it the comment at November 26, 2006 7:57 PM? I am not the technical guy over here at AFOE, but I know we are dealing with an awful lot of comment spam.

    Just now, while looking for any missing posts by legitimate commenters, I had to delete 200 odd spam comments.

    I know our technical crew has already been looking into this and we do apologize if the occasional comment goes missing in action (which, of course, we try to avoid).

  13. Hi Guy – yes it was that one. It appeared along with the other one of the 27th. I suspected it was buried somewhere under the spam.

    BTW I am using akismet myself for spam fighting. It works wonders, and almost automatically – at least for me (you have more track than I do obviously, that could make a difference). Don’t know if it is implementable on AFOE however.

    You could also consider having the letter B bring us the anti-spam measures for a few days…