Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte looked more likely than not to continue as prime minister of the Netherlands Tuesday night after his party, the free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) won the largest share of the vote in the Dutch election, with 98% of the votes counted.
The VVD won 26.6% of the vote, entitling it to 41 seats in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, an increase of 10 seats over the 2010 election.
It was followed very closely by the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), with 24.8%, which entitles it to 39 seats, a nine-seat increase from 2010 under the incredibly strong performance of Labour leader Diederik Samsom, a former Greenpeace activist who took over the party’s leadership only in March 2012 and spent much of the past year trailing the more staunchly leftist Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) of Emile Roemer.
All things being equal, Rutte and Samsom are the clear winners of the election. Rutte will now be able to attempt to form a government with a credible mandate for bringing the Dutch budget within 3% of Dutch GDP — his prior government fell in April of this year when Geert Wilders, the leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), refused to support further budget cuts.
Samsom is nearly as much a winner as Rutte, though. His polished performance in the various Dutch leaders debates (in contrast to Roemer’s often bumbling performances) convinced Dutch voters that he possesses sufficient poise to be prime minister. Samsom, a more leftist leader of the Labour Party as compared to his predecessor, former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, offered essentially the same anti-austerity option as Roemer, but without the anti-Europe sentiment of a Roemer-led government. Even if he remains in the opposition, he can become the chief voice against Rutte’s budget cuts during the next government and work to build upon his party’s gains from today’s election.
The Socialists finished far behind with 9.7% and 15 seats — unchanged from 2010, but a huge disappointment after polls showed a gain of potentially 35 seats just a few weeks ago.
The Socialists, in fact, finished just behind Wilders’s anti-immigration, anti-Europe PVV — with 10.1% and also just 15 seats, it’s a nine-seat drop from the 2010 election, a huge disappointment for Wilders and a success for those who favor an approach of integrating Muslims into Dutch culture rather than excluding them. Essentially, voters seemed to blame Wilders for dragging them back to the polls just two years after the last election — and furthermore, the essentially pro-European Dutch did not seem to take to Wilders’s contrived and virulent campaign to bring the Dutch guilder back and pull the Netherlands out of the eurozone. Wilders never found the same resonance over Europe in 2012 that he obvious found over Muslim immigration in 2010.
Rutte’s coalition partners, the once-dominant but now-atrophied Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) won just 8.5% and 13 seats, a drop of eight seats from 2010. The progressive / centrist Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) won 7.9% and 12 seats.
Also returning to the Tweede Kamer were the center-left, Christian Democratic ChristenUnie (CU, Christian Union) with 3.1% and five seats, the ecologist GroenLinks (GL, GreenLeft) with 2.3% and three seats, the Calvinist, ‘testimonial’ Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP, the Reformed Political Party) with 2.1% and three seats, and finally, both of the newly-formed Labour spinoff 50PLUS and the animal welfare advocate Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD, Party for the Animals), each with 1.9% and two seats.
As soon as tomorrow, cabinet formation talks are expected to begin — and for the first time, the Dutch parliament will take the lead in exploring potential coalitions (instead of the Dutch monarch, Queen Beatrix). Those talks typically take up to three months, but can take longer — the 2010 government was formed after four months of negotiations.
Given the result, it looks like three coalitions are possible:
- a ‘purple’ coalition, so named because it would combine the “red” Labour and “blue” VVD. Together, the two parties would command a majority with 80 seats. Including the CDA and the Democrats 66, which have both indicated they would join such a coalition, the government would command an incredibly strong 105 seats. The key impediment to a ‘purple’ coalition is the governing agenda — Samsom wants to cut the Dutch budget much more gradually than Rutte and, indeed, opposed against Rutte’s 2013 budget back in April. Samsom is also much more open to participating in future bailouts of Greece and other eurozone countries. This seems like the coalition that most of the media and other political elites want — it fits Dutch political tradition, as it would harken back to the ‘purple’ coalitions led by Labour prime minister Wim Kok from 1994 to 2002 and to the CDA-Labour coalitions of the 1980s.
- a VVD-led pro-austerity coalition with the CDA and, potentially, the Democrats 66 — together, they would hold 66 seats. If they convinced the Greens and the Christian Union to join the coalition, they would bring that total to 74, just one seat short of a majority government. Such a coalition would be a more center-right coalition that would not have to accommodate Labour’s skepticism on the budget, but as a minority government would be much more likely to fall within the next four years, and there’s no guarantee that the Democrats 66, the Greens or the Christian Union would necessarily sign on for accelerated budget cuts. This seems like a much more distinct possibility than it did just 24 hours ago — Rutte would prefer a government committed to his budget target and Samsom would rather remain in opposition than assent to budget cuts he opposes.
- a Labour-led anti-austerity coalition — the arithmetic here is tricky, as Labour, the Socialists and 50PLUS would together hold only 57 seats, and the Democrats 66 and the CDA have refused to join a coalition with the Socialists. Such an anti-austerity coalition would need the PVV to boost their government with outside support (perhaps as the PVV did with Rutte’s prior government) in order to begin to pass an agenda, but the PVV’s anti-European and anti-immigrant bent is anathema to Samsom, who would probably prefer to remain in opposition. This seems least likely.
- The VVD (in blue) took most of rural Holland and much of the rest of the Dutch hinterland.
- Labour (in red) swept the northern regions of Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen, as well as the cities in Holland and otherwise — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and the Hague. In Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, Labour won with 36% to just 19% for the VVD, 15% for Democrats 66 and 9% for the Socialists.
- The CDA (in bright yellow), which even in 2010 did very well in the Dutch heartland outside of Holland, this year was reduced to winning just a small part of Overijsissel in the center-west of the country.
- The PVV (in gray) was wiped out in the Limburg region in the south of the country and Maastricht, all of which it won in 2010.