Tag Archives: D66

Dutch voters defeated Wilders, not the Dutch electoral system

Prime minister Mark Rutte debated populist Geert Wilders in a one-on-one debate Monday night. (Bart Maat / ANP)

One of the growing myths of yesterday’s poor showing for Geert Wilders and the is that, somehow, the Dutch electoral system is somehow responsible for Wilders’s poor showing. 

Consider this paragraph from The Economist that cautions not to extrapolate too much from Wilders’s humbling collapse to just 13% support (good enough, in the current fragmented political context, for second place):

Mr Trump’s win could not have happened without the peculiarities of America’s electoral college. By the same token, the fact that Mr Wilders did not win does not translate on to Ms Le Pen. The Dutch political system is open and diffuse, with over a dozen parties in parliament and low barriers for new ones to make it in. The French system is more rigid.

I’ve seen this theme increasingly on Twitter today (especially on #MAGA Twitter) — somehow as if it’s okay to disregard the Dutch election result because seats in the Tweede Kamer are awarded on the basis of proportional representation or because of the Dutch parliamentary system, as if another system would have delivered a resounding victory for Wilders and the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Party for Freedom).


Imagine that Dutch elections were instead organized like American elections. You would see a primary on the right (much like we’ve seen recently in Italy, even though it’s more of a parliamentary system). In this hypothetical primary, Wilders would have campaigned against not only prime minister Mark Rutte, but against Christian Democratic leader Sybrand Buma and Christian Union leader Gert-Jan Segers and even Thierry Baudet, the head of a little-known group, the Forum voor Democratie (FvD, Forum for Democracy), a small right-wing populist and eurosceptic group that managed to win 1.8% of the national vote yesterday. If you extrapolate the results — that’s a little tricky because the Dutch voted for parties, not for personalities — it’s clear that right-leaning voters far preferred Rutte to Wilders.

That would have been true in 2012, by the way, and it would have been true in 2010 (the high-water mark for Wilders and the PVV). An American-style ‘primary’ in 2006? Former Christian Democratic prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende would have easily defeated both Rutte and Wilders. In a presidential-style ‘general election,’ Rutte would have faced off, perhaps, against Alexander Pechtold, the leader of the left-liberal Democraten 66 (D66, Democrats 66), with Wilders standing on the sidelines stewing over Islam or running a doomed third-party challenge. (Though of course sore-loser laws in the United States would have effectively prevented Wilders from running both for the Republican nomination and a third-party candidacy).

Imagine, too, a world where Dutch elections used the French system. Rutte and Wilders, as the leaders of the two parties with the largest number of votes in the 2017 election (again, it’s tricky to conflate votes for parties and votes for individuals) would presumably face one another in a runoff.

But it’s hard to see where Wilders would have picked up votes, much beyond the populist 50PLUS party or the FvD. That’s clear enough from the 65% (or so) of the Dutch electorate that supported moderate parties of both the left and the right that are generally pro-Europe and tolerant (if not always enthusiastic) of immigrants. Rutte, I’d be willing to wager, would win a French-style runoff by the same margin that centrist Emmanuel Macron currently enjoys against populist Marine Le Pen in polls forecasting the May presidential runoff in France.

Finally, consider the United Kingdom, where each member of parliament is elected in a single-member constituency by first-past-the-post voting.

There’s a reason that third parties fare so poorly in FPTP systems — they are unfairly disadvantaged.

See the map above from the 388 municipalities of The Netherlands. That sea of dark blue? It’s the wave of municipalities where Rutte’s governing Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) would have won on a FPTP basis. In a world where the Tweede Kamer was a 388-member parliament, the VVD would easily dominate it, followed (not particularly closely) in second place by the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), represented above in dark green.

By my count, the PVV won first place across just 23 municipalities. That compares with 13 municipalities where the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP, Reformed Political Party) won the highest number of votes (see in orange above) — a party that wants to run the country on ‘biblical principles’ and Calvinist orthodoxy!

The system — in this case at least — had no bearing.

Wilders has no one to blame but himself and his party’s vague and divisive message. It simply didn’t break through to many Dutch voters, and that lack of enthusiasm would have manifested itself in any number of electoral systems.

Eight lessons from the 2017 Dutch election results

Twenty-eight parties were vying for 150 seats in the Dutch House of Representatives. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)

Orange may be the new black.

But as it turns out, orange is also the new bulwark for liberal democracy.

Mark Rutte’s governing center-right, liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) performed better than polls predicted in The Netherlands, and Rutte will now return as Dutch prime minister — perhaps through the end of the decade — as head of a multi-party governing coalition.

Conversely, Wednesday’s election amounted to a disappointing result for Geert Wilders and the sharply anti-Europe, anti-Islam and anti-immigration Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Party for Freedom), which blew a longtime polling lead that it had held from the middle of 2015 up to just a couple of weeks ago.

As Dutch voters took a harder look at the campaign, however, they turned away from Wilders’s populism and to the balmier vision of Rutte’s VVD. But they also turned to three other parties that ranged from conservative to liberal to progressive. Indeed, over 65% of the Dutch electorate supported parties that are, essentially, in favor of moderate policymaking, European integration and basic decency to immigrants.

Given that the Dutch election is the first of a half-dozen key European national elections in 2017, all of which are taking place in the dual shadows of last year’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election in the United States, everyone was watching this vote in particular as a harbinger for European elections this year.

So what does today’s result mean? Here are the top eight takeaways from election night.
Continue reading Eight lessons from the 2017 Dutch election results

Rutte’s liberals eclipses Dutch populists as voters go to the polls

Mark Rutte, if polls are correct, will lead his VVD to victory on March 15 — and another term as prime minister. (ANP)

Everything’s coming up Rutte.

Mark Rutte, that is — the prime minister of The Netherlands who will almost certainly find his way to a third term as prime minister after tomorrow’s election.

Even earlier this year, when Geert Wilders’s hard-right Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Party for Freedom) held a substantial lead, it was always virtually assured that Rutte would return as prime minister. Consistently, even as the PVV topped polls, Rutte’s center-right, liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) continued to follow behind in second place, leading the race among the PVV’s mainstream opponents. All along, Wilders’s goal was never forming a government, but the hollow victory of placing first among a half-dozen parties bunched together between 10% and 20% in the polls.

Over the last two weeks, even that has changed to Wilders’s detriment.

The VVD eclipsed the PVV in polls at the end of February, and one shock poll from Ipsos on the eve of the election showed the PVV sliding to fifth place. At a time when Rutte is embroiled in a high-profile diplomatic spat with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (over whether Turkish ministers should be holding campaign rallies in The Netherlands for next month’s Turkish constitutional referendum), Wilders still seems to be losing steam.

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RELATED: Trump effect — Europe turning toward integration,
away from populists

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Both inside Europe and beyond, the Wilders threat was always smaller than the amount of coverage he’s received. Even when the PVV was leading, no other major party was willing to work with Wilders and the PVV’s toxic brand. Even with the highest number of seats in the Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives), the PVV would fall far short of the majority it would need to form a government. Mostly, that’s due to the PVV’s hardline views on immigration, Islam and the European Union. But it’s also because Wilders proved an unreliable ally to Rutte when he withdrew the PVV’s support for Rutte’s minority government in 2012 over spending, forcing snap elections — a gambit that backfired when the PVV lost nine seats.

What’s very much true — and always has been true — is that support across all parties in tomorrow’s election in The Netherlands could be so dispersed that no party wins more than even 17% of the vote. It could usher in the most fragmented parliament in postwar history, and it will force Rutte to navigate coalition negotiations that include four or even five parties. Don’t hold your breath for the kind of quick deal that followed the 2012 election, the ‘purple’ coalition between Rutte’s liberals and the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party).

Labour’s support has collapsed in the ensuing five years. Junior coalition parties are rarely rewarded by voters, but many Labour supporters believe the party far too willing to compromise with Rutte on spending after Labour waged a popular campaign against budget austerity. (It is still projected to win between nine and 14 seats in the election under a new leader, Lodewijk Asscher.)

If the VVD and the PVV finish first and second, respectively, as most polls still forecast, the race for third place is murkier. The conservative Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), the center-left/liberal Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) and the leftist GroenLinks (Green Left) are all surging, and the CDA and D66 are widely tipped to enter government after coalition negotiations. GroenLinks is likely to make the strongest gains of any party (more even than Wilders) after the successful campaign of its fresh-faced 30-year-old leader, Jesse Klaver.

If there’s any consensus among the Dutch electorate, voters are choosing from a group of five or six parties, each dedicated to European integration, liberal democracy and moderate policy prescriptions — not fear-mongering xenophobia. No matter what happens tomorrow, Wilders will have a smaller role in shaping Dutch policy than, say, the more circumspect D66 leader Alexander Pechtold, who could become Rutte’s deputy prime minister in a new coalition. Pechtold may not have the international profile that Wilders has acquired with his ‘Make The Netherlands Ours Again’ histrionics, but he could be in a position to push the next government to a more pro-immigrant and pro-European orientation.

None of this, most especially the PVV’s apparent collapse, should be shocking.

Continue reading Rutte’s liberals eclipses Dutch populists as voters go to the polls

Trump effect: Europe turning toward integration, away from populists

Across Europe, support for Trump-style populists is falling, even though many European populists were growing long before Trump entered the political scene. (123RF / Evgeny Gromov)

If there’s one thing that unites Europeans, it’s the concept that they are better — more enlightened, more cultured and more sophisticated — than Americans.

That was especially true during the presidency of George W. Bush, when France, Germany and other leading anchors of the European Union vociferously opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq. In 2002, it sometimes seemed like German chancellor Gerhard Schröder was running against Bush, not against his conservative German challenger, Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber.

Europeans might be leaning in a similar direction in the Trump era, even though it’s hardly been a month since Donald Trump took office. In the days after Trump’s surprise election last November (and after the Brexit vote last summer), populists like Geert Wilders in The Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France had reason to believe that Trump’s victory would give political tailwinds to their own electoral efforts in 2017.

If anything, however, Europeans are pulling back from populism in the first months of 2017. As four of the founding EU countries gear up for elections in the coming months — the first will be The Netherlands in just nine days — the threat of a Trump-style populist surging to power seems increasingly farfetched.

Maybe Europeans simply outright disdain what they perceive as the vulgar, Jacksonian urges of American voters. Maybe it’s shock at the way Trump’s inexperienced administration has bumbled through its first 40 days or the troubles of British prime minister Theresa May in navigating her country through the thicket of Brexit and withdrawing from the European Union.

More likely though, it could be that Trump’s oft-stated criticism of NATO and praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin have finally shaken Europeans out of the fog that’s gathered for 70 years under the penumbra of pax Americana. Even as officials like US vice president Mike Pence and US defense secretary James Mattis reassure European allies that the United States is committed to the trans-Atlantic security alliance, Trump continues to muse about NATO being obsolete (as recently as the week before his inauguration). Furthermore, the America-first nationalism that emerged from Trump’s successful campaign has continued into his administration and promises a new, more skeptical approach to prior American obligations not only in Europe, but worldwide. Just ten days into office, Trump trashed the European Union as a ‘threat’ to the United States, only to back down and call it ‘wonderful’ in February. Breitbart, the outlet that senior Trump strategist Stephen Bannon headed until last summer, ran a headline in January proclaiming that Trump would make the European Union ‘history.’

All of which has left Europeans also rethinking their security position and considering a day when American security guarantees are withdrawn — or simply too unreliable to be trusted.

Arguably, NATO always undermined the European Union, in structural terms, because NATO has been the far more important body for guaranteeing trans-Atlantic security. Though Federica Mogherini is a talented and saavy diplomat, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy is far less important to trans-Atlantic security than the NATO secretary-general (currently, former Norwegian prime minster Jens Stoltenberg). While the stakes of EU policymaking — trade, consumer and environmental regulation, competition law and other economic regulation and a good deal of European fiscal and monetary policy — aren’t low, they would be higher still if the European Union, instead of NATO, were truly responsible for European defense and security. That’s perhaps one reason why the European Union has been stuck since the early 2000s in its own ‘Articles of Confederation’ moment — too far united to pull the entire scheme apart, not yet united enough to pull closer together.

Perhaps, alternatively, it has nothing to do with blowback to Trump or Brexit, and voters in the core western European countries, which are accustomed to a less Schumpeterian form of capitalism, are simply more immune to radical swings than their counterparts subject to the janglier peaks and valleys of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. It’s not too much to think that, possibly, in the aftermath of both Brexit and Trump’s election, core Europe, unleashed from the toxic dynamic of British euroscepticism and emboldened to forge new relationships from outside the American security aegis, may be finding a new confidence after years of economic ennui.

Nevertheless, populists across Europe who tried to cloak themselves in the warm embrace of Trumpismo throughout 2016 are increasingly struggling in 2017. A dark and uncertain 2016 is giving way rapidly to a European spring in 2017 where centrists, progressives and conservatives alike are finding ways to push back against populist and xenophobic threats.  Continue reading Trump effect: Europe turning toward integration, away from populists

Who is Alexander Pechtold?


Though Geert Wilders and his anti-Moroccan comments dominated  headlines following last month’s municipal elections throughout The Netherlands, the clear winner was the Democraten 66 (D66, Democrats 66) and its leader Alexander Pechtold (pictured above).Netherlands Flag Icon

Nearly a year and a half after the last Dutch general election, D66 is emerging in polls as the strongest party in The Netherlands today, in light of the government’s increasing unpopularity under the strain of budget cuts and a continued sluggish economy.

Notably, D66 became the largest party in both Amsterdam and Utrecht. That’s a big deal because Amsterdam since 1946 has been the stronghold of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), the junior partner in the current Dutch government. It’s a sign of just how unpopular the government has become, and how specifically unpopular the Labour Party has become.

Nationally, the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) won the highest share of the vote with 17.7%, largely on the strength of rural voters.

The center-right, liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), the leading partner of the national government placed second with 12.7%, a significant decrease.

But D66 placed third with 9.6% of the vote and, in light of the advances in Amsterdam and Utrecht, emerged from the March 19 elections as the party with the most momentum in Dutch politics today.

It’s somewhat of an odd party.

Founded in (you guessed it!) 1966 by journalist Hans van Mierlo, its original goal was to make The Netherlands a more democratic country, with a two-party presidential republic and greater direct participation through referenda. 

Today, it doesn’t necessarily want to enact a presidential republic, but it’s still split between an older radical wing and a newer liberal wing, and it has essentially become a just-left-of-center party that’s both socially liberal and economically liberal, with chiefly urban appeal limited to The Netherlands’s large cities and progressive university towns. 

An art historian by training, Pechtold was the mayor of Wageningen before making the leap into national politics. He briefly served in the second government of Jan Pieter Balkenende between 2005 and 2006 as minister for government reform and kingdom relations. Continue reading Who is Alexander Pechtold?

Le Pen v. Wilders: a tale of two far-right European movements


The big story from Sunday’s municipal elections in France is the success of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front national (FN, National Front), overshadowing the marquee Paris mayoral election.France Flag IconNetherlands Flag IconEuropean_Union

The far-right won the mayoral race in Hénin-Beaumont, a former mining town in the north, in a rare first-round victory, the FN came in second in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, and it led in at least six other locations as France prepares for second-round runoffs on March 30.

The result should certainly boost Le Pen in her efforts to win  support in European parliamentary elections in May — and to unite the populist hard right across the continent.

According to preliminary results, the Front national won just 4.65% of the national vote. That’s a big deal because the party was running in just 597 of around 37,000 jurisdictions — it’s a massive increase from the 2008 municipal results, when the FN won around 1% and ran in just 119 constituencies. 

The other narrative from Sunday’s vote is the collapse of France’s center-left — president François Hollande’s Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) won 37.74% nationally, while the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP, Union for a popular movement) of former president Nicolas Sarkozy won 46.54% nationally. The bright spot for the Socialists remains Paris, where first deputy mayor Anne Hidalgo is the slight favorite to win a runoff against former Sarkozy campaign spokesperson and ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet — but don’t rule out an upset next Sunday there, either.

The success in the 2014 municipal elections is just the latest chapter for Le Pen’s rebranding of the Front national in France as a slightly more moderate alternative than the party her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, led for decades. It’s harder today to target the Front national as a xenophobic, anti-Semitic fringe, because Le Pen has focused on an agenda much heavier on euroskepticism and economic nationalism. While the Front national isn’t exactly immigrant-friendly, its position has largely converged with the UMP’s position since the Sarkozy presidency, which embraced hard-right positions on immigration and law-and-order issues. By shifting rightward, Sarkozy may have sidelined Le Pen during his presidency and co-opted her supporters, but today, Sarkozy is almost as responsible as Le Pen for bringing the Front national within the political mainstream.

With the line blurring between the UMP and the Front national, Le Pen could become the chief voice of the French right in 2017, especially if the UMP succumbs to more infighting between its right-wing leader Jean-François Copé and the more moderate former prime minister François Fillon. The next presidential election is still a long way off, but if Sarkozy doesn’t run for the presidency in 2017, Le Pen stands just as much chance as Copé, Fillon or any other UMP figure of representing the French right in the second round.

More immediately troubling for France’s political elite are the European parliamentary elections in May. Despite its breakthrough performance on Sunday, the Front national isn’t about to overrun the city halls of France. Its victory is more symbolic than substantive. But if it’s one thing to turn over your local government to Marine Le Pen, it’s a far different thing to support the Front national as a protest vote with respect to European Union policy.

Polls show that the Front national and the UMP are competing for first place in the European elections within France — the most recent Opinion Way poll from early March shows the UMP winning  22%, the FN winning 21% and the Socialists just 17%. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a wave of undecided voters support the Front national at the last moment, nor would it be a surprise to learn that polling surveys currently underestimate FN support.

Extremists on both the far left and the far right are gaining strength throughout the entire European Union. That’s perhaps understandable, given the harsh economic conditions that have plagued Europe since the last EU-wide elections in 2009. But the euroskeptic right, in particular, seems poised for a breakthrough. Nigel Farage hopes to lead the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party to a breakthrough performance in May, and the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party of Austria) is tied for first place in polls in Austria.

But just as Le Pen hits her stride, another standard-bearer of the hard right, Geert Wilders, found himself in free fall last week after pledging to allow fewer Moroccans into the Netherlands, remarks that have launched a cascade of criticism and a handful of defections from his party: Continue reading Le Pen v. Wilders: a tale of two far-right European movements

Dutch talks over streamlined VVD,Labour ‘purple coalition’ progressing rapidly

It appears that Dutch coalitions may be even easier to form now that the monarch isn’t in charge of the negotiations.

Both Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte of the free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) and Diederik Samsom, leader of the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party) are moving forward with talks for a coalition government, despite clear divides on some of the most important policy issues that will face the next Dutch government.

The VVD and Labour both emerged as winners by improving their existing standing in last Wednesday’s election — the VVD won 26.6% and 41 seats (an increase of 10 seats from the prior election in 2010) and Labour won 24.8% and 38 seats (an increase of eight) in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.

The negotiations, for the first time, following a new 2010 law, will be organized by the Dutch parliment instead of by the monarch, reducing one of the key roles that the Dutch monarch has traditionally played in affairs of state.

So instead of Queen Beatrix, VVD parliamentarian Henk Kamp has taken the lead in sorting which potential coalitions exist and now, as informateurs, Kamp and former Labour party leader Wouter Bos seem to have found enough common ground between Labour and the VVD for a potential coalition, and the camps are set to proceed with private negotiations out of the media spotlight.

Typically, it takes around three months for a coalition government to be formed — notwithstanding the new cabinet formation process that excludes the monarchy, however, it seems likely that a coalition may now be formed within weeks.  That’s because there are only a small number of viable coalitions, and because both Rutte (pictured above, right) and Samsom (pictured above, left) agree that forming a relatively stable coalition quickly is important, given the questions lingering over the 2013 Dutch budget and given the precarious state of European finances.

After the 2010 election, the VVD formed a minority coalition with the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), with an agreement with the right-wing, populist, anti-Muslim Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom) to provide support for the VVD agenda from outside the government.  That agreement held up only until April 2012, when the PVV balked at supporting further budget cuts to bring the 2013 budget deficit within 3% of GDP, thereby causing last week’s election — the fourth Dutch election in a decade.

After preliminary inquiry into potential coalitions that began last Thursday, just hours after the election result, a so-called ‘purple coalition’ of the VVD and Labour emerged as the most likely coalition, so named because it would bring together the ‘blue’ VVD and ‘red’ Labour.  The result would leave the two parties with a clear majority of 79 seats in the 150-seat chamber, but eight seats short of a majority in the upper house, the Eerste Kamer, where VVD holds 16 and Labour holds 14 of the 75 seats.

Such a coalition would be a throwback to the ‘purple coalitions’ of Labour prime minister Wim Kok from 1994 to 2002 among Labour, the CDA, the VVD and the progressive / centrist Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) (as well as a throwback to the coalitions of the 1980s between Labour and the CDA).  It’s similar to the ‘grand coalition’ that governed Germany from 2005 to 2009 between Angela Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, the Christian Democratic Union) and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, the Social Democratic Party). Continue reading Dutch talks over streamlined VVD,Labour ‘purple coalition’ progressing rapidly

Rutte’s VVD edges out Samsom’s Labour as both gain in Dutch election

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: Continue reading Rutte’s VVD edges out Samsom’s Labour as both gain in Dutch election

On the eve of Dutch elections, a primer (and a prediction) on cabinet formation

In most countries, an election is the decisive moment in forming a government.  After the election results are in, it’s usually immediately clear who will become the next president or prime minister or chancellor (or so on).  Even in countries with complex parliamentary systems, where coalitions still take time to negotiate, it’s typically pretty clear to spot which party will emerge to form the government.

In the Netherlands, however, the election is more prologue than main event: no single party has won a majority of seats in the Dutch parliament since 1900, so the main government-forming exercise is the complex negotiation that follows Dutch elections.  While not as tortured as recent Belgian political negotiations, Dutch cabinet negotiations typically take around three months to complete — and that’s only when the coalition formation process is fairly routine.

The last government, a minority coalition headed by Mark Rutte, was sworn in only in October 2010, following elections earlier in June.

This year, two thing augur a relatively longer (than shorter) period of cabinet negotiations:

  • First, poll volatility and the likelihood that a large number of parties are expected to win double-digit numbers of seats in the 150-member Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, will make the arithmetic of forming a majority government even more difficult.
  • Second, MPs eliminated the role of the monarch from the cabinet formation process in 2010, which will now be headed by the chair of the Tweede Kamer, Gerdi Verbeet, instead of Queen Beatrix (pictured above), leaving the process more uncertain and less transparent than in years past.

In years past, the Dutch monarch (since 1980, Queen Beatrix) has typically initiated the process by meeting with each of the party leaders and appointing an informateur, typically a senior statesman, to explore the possibility of various governing coalitions.  Coalition negotiations can go through several stages of informateurs — for example, in 2010, the Queen ultimately appointed five different informateurs, including three who served in the role twice.  Thereupon, the monarch appoints the formateur — typically the leader of the largest party in parliament — to negotiate the details of the coalition agreement among the coalition partners, including the governing agenda for the coalition, appointments to the cabinet and other issues.

This year, the process is a bit more unsettled — it will be Verbeet and parliamentarians who can shape the agenda of the negotiations, which could result in delays as everyone navigates a new process, and which some critics believe could make the cabinet formation process less transparent.  Although Queen Beatrix was widely seen as steering the 2010 negotiations away from any PVV participation in government (and that bias was one of the reasons MPs voted to strip the monarchy of its role in cabinet formation), it is not necessarily the case that parliamentarians will have any less bias in choosing informateurs.

The final TNS Nipo poll forecasts the following results for tomorrow’s election (similar to results from other polls):

  • 35 seats for Rutte’s free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).
  • 34 seats for the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), which has seen its support rise with the success of its leader Diederik Samsom in the recent debates.
  • 21 seats for the anti-austerity, leftist Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party), a marked decline from a month ago, when it led polls, before its leader Emile Roemer made some anti-European comments and was seen as having stumbled in the debates.
  • 17 seats for the populist, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom) of Geert Wilders, a sharp decline in seats.
  • 13 seats for the progressive/centrist Democraten 66 (Democrats 66).
  • 12 seats for the conservative Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), a sharp decline.
  • 6 seats for ChristenUnie (CU, Christian Union), a smaller, vaguely center-left, Christian democratic party.
  • 4 seats for GroenLinks (GL, GreenLeft), the Dutch green party.
  • 4 seats for 50PLUS, a new party founded in 2009 by former Labour politicians.
  • 2 seats for Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP, the Reformed Political Party), a Calvinist party that’s in electoral alliance with ChristenUnie, but is typically a ‘testimonial’ party uninterested in joining coalitions.
  • 2 seats for the Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD, Party for the Animals), another ‘testimonial’ party focused on animal rights and welfare.

If those polls are correct — and, I’ll caution, polls still show many undecided voters — I see three potential coalitions:

  • a centrist, pro-Europe ‘purple’ coalition, largely between the VVD and Labour,
  • a more leftist anti-austerity coalition, largely between Labour and the Socialists, and
  • an unlikelier VVD-led pro-austerity coalition without Labour.

It seems more likely than not, however, that Labour is headed back into government as either the leading party or a supporting coalition member of the next government. Continue reading On the eve of Dutch elections, a primer (and a prediction) on cabinet formation

Samsomania! Five reasons why everything’s coming up roses for the Dutch Labour Party

In less than two weeks, we’ve watched the Dutch election transformed from a two-party race into a three-way tie, as the Dutch Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom has burst into a starring role on the Dutch political stage.

Samsom’s party, the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, the Labour Party), now either leads or is essentially tied with the two prior leading parties in advance of the September 12 elections for the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.

Those two parties are the center-right, free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), led by current prime minister Mark Rutte, and the stridently leftist, anti-austerity Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) led by Emile Roemer.

In the latest Ipsos Nederland poll and projection, Rutte’s VVD would win 34 seats, Roemer’s Socialists would win 27 seats and Samsom’s Labour would win 26 seats.  Three other smaller parties win a significant share of the vote: the anti-Muslim (and now increasingly anti-Europe) Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), led by Geert Wilders, would win just 20 seats, the progressive Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) would win 14 seats, and the center-right Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) would win just 13 seats.  TNS Nipo and Maurice du Fond polls show an even more ascendant Labour result.

Rutte’s VVD emerged with the most seats in the prior 2010 election, and he formed a minority government with the CDA, with outside support coming from Wilder’s PVV.  The current government fell in April, when Wilders refused to support Rutte’s budget package, which aimed to cut the 2013 Dutch budget to within 3% of GDP.

Labour, then headed by former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, finished with one fewer seat than the VVD in 2010, and is currently the main opposition party in the Tweede Kamer, but it had consistently lost support ever since — until now.  Cohen stepped down earlier this year, and Samsom, a more leftist Labour leader, replaced him in March.

So the latest poll capture the recent resounding resurgence for Labour, but also indicates that the Socialists and the Democrats 66 would still improve on their 2010 election totals, indicating that the Dutch parliament would be a much more anti-austerity parliament — a Labour-Socialist coalition is a possibility, as is a so-called ‘purple coalition’ between Labour and the VVD.  Labour last governed the Netherlands from 1994 to 2002 under prime minister Wim Kok, when the VVD and Labour joined together under a so-called ‘purple coalition’ (alongside the Dutch Greens and the Democrats 66), and Labour and the CDA governed in coalitions in the 1980s.

Whew! But that doesn’t explain why Samsom has so drastically improved his party’s chances to the point where he is now a credible contender, with Rutte and Roemer, to become The Netherlands’s next prime minister.  Here are five reasons why:  Continue reading Samsomania! Five reasons why everything’s coming up roses for the Dutch Labour Party

Who is Diederik Samsom? A look at the newest party leader in the Netherlands

When Dutch voters tune into tonight’s debate — the second in advance of the September 12 parliamentary election — they will be watching closely the man who was deemed to be the winner of last week’s debate.

That’s Diederik Samsom, the leader of the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, the Labour Party), is riding a wave of popularity, with Labour rising very narrowly in the polls and with indications that Dutch voters may be giving Samsom his first real look as they contemplate doubts about Emile Roemer, the popular leader of the Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party).

A former Greenpeace activist who once studied nuclear energy and physics, Samsom has been a Labour member of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, since 2003, and has served as the party’s spokesperson for environmental issues.  Hailing from the left branch of the Labour Party, Samsom opposed extending the Dutch military presence in Iraq in 2004 in defiance of much of his own party.

The Labour Party currently holds the second-largest number of seats in the Tweede Kamer — 30 seats to 31 for the party of prime minister Mark Rutte, the the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).

Many Dutch voters appear ready to reject Rutte’s brand of austerity, which would normally leave Labour well-placed for the elections.  Instead, Labour has watched as Roemer and the Socialists bounded to the top of the polls, tied or even leading Rutte’s VVD. Continue reading Who is Diederik Samsom? A look at the newest party leader in the Netherlands