An insight into the Dutch elections

, by Richard Haringsma

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

An insight into the Dutch elections
From left to right: Former leader of the Christian Democrats Maxime Verhagen; Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the VVD party; Geert Wilders of the PVV party. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

In just under a month the people of the Netherlands will have elections for members of the House of Representatives. The Dutch elections are overshadowed by topics such as the European Union, immigration and the economy. And just like the French and German elections, the Dutch vote is being followed closely due to the rise of far-right politician Geert Wilders and his party, PVV (Party for Freedom). An interesting thing to note is that the current government will be the first one to complete its term of four years since 1998.

Every four years the Netherlands votes for 150 members of the House of Representatives, or as it is known in Dutch: De Tweede Kamer (literally: Second Chamber). However, if the government falls within those four years, new elections will be held, unlike in some other European countries such as the UK and Italy. Some of the reasons for new elections might be the loss of majority in the House of Representatives or a disagreement between the government parties. Furthermore, the Netherlands has a bicameral parliament that includes the senate or, in Dutch: De Eerste Kamer (literally: First Chamber). The Senate is filled by representatives from all the Dutch provinces, chosen by the parliament of that province, and thus not directly by the citizens. Moreover, the Netherlands is a constitutional parliamentary monarchy where the King is the head of the government but does not exercise any power. This power, in general, always rests with the Prime Minister, who is the person that was given the opportunity to form a government after a general election. How much power a given party will get in the House of Representatives obviously depends on the amount of votes they receive. However, it is important to know that the Netherlands do not use a system where the winning party receives extra seats.

The vote of 15 March had a record number of 81 registered parties and a post-WW2 joint record number of 28 parties actually participating in the elections. In comparison, the 2012 elections had 21 political parties participating. The difference between registered and participating parties is that registered parties failed to comply to a list of conditions, such as enough support in the Netherlands for the party to participate and a financial deposit of around 11.000 EUR.

Of all these new parties a couple of them have serious potential of making it into the House of Representatives. One of these is DENK (meaning: THINK). This party was formed by two members of the social-democrat party PVDA of Turkish descent.. The party positions itself as one that aims to battle racism and division within Dutch society. However, the party is currently facing a lot of criticism for allegedly creating more division within the nation than it cures, being accused for working with the controversial Turkish Erdogan government, and over-using the term racism. The presentation of their candidate list, which almost only consists of Dutch people with a foreign background, and the already high popularity under Turkish and Moroccan Dutch citizens does not help to battle this criticism.

The other new parties are on the right part of the political spectrum. These groups, named Forum for Democracy (FVD), For the Netherlands (VNL), and Geenpeil, all find their origins in the Dutch referendum on the Ukraine. With co-operation and under the banner of Geenpeil, FVD worked to get a referendum held on the Association Agreement between the EU and the Ukraine. The current leader of the VNL party, Jan Roos, was the main spokesperson of the Geenpeil campaign ahead of the Ukraine referendum. The Dutch elections created a divide between this co-operation, and FVD, previously only a think tank, decided to enter the political arena with flamboyant leader Thierry Baudet. Their main aim is to seek a referendum on membership of the European Union, while blaming the established parties for maintaining a cartel party system in the Hague (The Hague is the political center and houses both parliaments).

Spokesperson Jan Roos joined the VNL party, which was originally created by two former members of the PVV, as the party’s leader. They position themselves as a classical liberal party that seeks to return the European Union to the European Economic Community.

Geenpeil also joined the political landscape with as frontman newspaper columnist Jan Dijkgraaf. However, Geenpeil offers a completely different style of doing politics as its members can choose in online polls what the party’s position shall be. Their elected candidates will thus only vote what the majority of their members vote on their website. For all that, one can expect the results of these polls to have right-wing tendencies, as Geenpeil is part of the Geenstijl media website, which offers a right-wing view on topics. Although these parties are the results of the European resurgence of populist movements, none of them are doing very well in the polls. Geenpeil currently has zero seats and VNL and the FVD are currently looking at one seat.

In the meantime, the established parties are all doing well in the polls. The two parties that are battling for first place are the anti-EU and anti-immigrant party of Geert Wilders, which has been leading the polls for some months, but has seen its seats drop from 28 to just 25. Wilders’s aims for the Netherlands and the EU are clear: he aims to have the Netherlands leave the European Union, the common currency and the Schengen area.

Currently the liberal pro-EU VVD of Mark Rutte is second in the polls and is gaining more voters lately with an expected result of 24 seats. The VVD won the 2010 and 2012 elections and successfully led the Netherlands out of the 2008 economic crisis. The VVD behaved very pro-EU-ish when in Brussels and supported European cooperation on the refugee crisis, the association agreement with the Ukraine, and further European integration on defence. In the Netherlands, however, Mark Rutte’s VVD sometimes adopts a more Eurosceptic attitude, to please potential undecided voters that float between Rutte’s party and the PVV. However, whether in the Netherlands or in Brussels, the VVD is still more pro-EU than, for instance, the conservatives in the UK. Something important to note is that in the Netherlands liberal parties are seen as parties who seek economic freedom, lower taxes and less government and are thus seen on the right of the political landscape. Which is very different than for example in the USA, where democrats are usually referred to as liberals and socialist at the same time, something that would be impossible in the Dutch political landscape.

The rest of the established parties are roughly between the 10-20 seat mark. The party leading this group is the Christian Democratic pro-EU CDA. The CDA are veterans of government, but have now been in opposition for seven years. The CDA lead the pro-European constitution movement in 2005 during the referendum and gathered support of almost every major party back then but was faced with a NO of the Dutch people by 61.6%. To this day the CDA is still a major supporter of further European integration.

The next party is the progressive, Europhile, liberal D66. The party, led by Alexander Pechtold, performed well during the 2012 elections, scoring 12 seats. The party’s member base has been growing the last five years and its success has followed suit. In the 2006 elections the party barely attained 3 seats, which increased to 10 in 2010. In the upcoming elections, D66 is looking at possibly 17 seats. D66 seek to establish a federal European Union.

Shortly behind D66 is the pro-EU progressive leftist green party called Groenlinks. They are doing surprisingly well with 14 seats, since in most elections they never surpassed five. One of the factors of this unforeseen success is the party’s charismatic young leader, Jesse Klaver. Being only 30 years old, he attracts young people and grabs leftist voters who have lost confidence in the social democrats of the PVDA.

Two parties are expected to land on 11 seats: the pro-EU PVDA and the eurosceptic SP. The former are the social democrats, who form part of the current government. While the VVD remained popular after their period in the Cabinet, the PVDA has now plummeted to 11 seats from 38 in 2012. Before the 2010 elections PVDA had a similar time, when their leader Job Cohen was too unpopular. When Cohen resigned, his successor Diederik Samson brought the party back into the race, scoring second place in the 2010 and 2012 elections. The new leader of the PVDA, Lodewijk Asscher, has not been able to reproduce such moments so far.

The socialist SP returned more MPs in the previous elections than that it is expected to in the current polls this year. The SP is the only left-wing party that is eurosceptic and is expected to return more than 5 seats. They are in favour of EU membership but are against any form of continued European integration.

As one might have noticed, the Dutch political landscape is a fractured one. Even if Geert Wilders becomes the biggest he has to find other parties to form a coalition. Almost every party already pledged not to form a government with Wilders and even if they were open to it, Wilders would then have to form a government with any of the pro-EU parties. If Wilders wins, chances are that the second party will get the honour of forming the government, which will likely be the VVD. The VVD will then probably try to form a government with the CDA, D66, and Groenlinks, or perhaps a combination of some of them. However, with the current decline in popularity of the PVV, the VVD might turn out as winner of a Dutch general election once again.

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