Despite austerity, right-center coalition prevails in Dutch elections

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After a campaign in which polls suggested that the left-wing Socialist Party might pull off an upset, the legislative elections in the Netherlands on Wednesday left a probable right-center coalition in control. However, one piece of good news is that the anti-immigrant ultra right took a beating.

Results for the election to the 150-member lower house of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (Second Chamber of the States-General), which was based on proportional representation, showed that Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy, "Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie") will have 41 seats as opposed to 31 in the last election, while Diederick Samsom's social democratic centrist Labor Party (Party of Labor, "Partij van die Arbeid") will have 39 as opposed to their previous 20.  

As the two largest parties in a chamber in which no single party will have a majority, it seems likely that the VVD and Labor will form a coalition government. Both of them are supportive of maintaining the European Union and the Euro currency, but Labor has been more interested than VVD in preserving the social safety net and also in giving some slack to the poorer European countries, such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy that are currently forced to implement harsh austerity programs in exchange for financial support from the rest of Europe.

How such a coalition can work is yet to be seen.

Beyond the two major vote getters, the big news was, first, that the ultra-right wing, stridently nationalist and anti-immigrant Freedom Party ("Partij voor Vrijheid") of populist-nationalist demagogue Geert Wilders took a big hit.  In the outgoing parliament, they had 24 seats; now they will have only 15.                    .

Christian Democratic Appeal ("Christen Democratisch Appel"), a once powerful conservative party based in the Catholic and Protestant Churches, which had been a junior member in Rutte's outgoing government, ended up with only 13 seats, as opposed to 21 in the previous elections. This probably leaves them out of any coalition.

Democrats-66, another centrist party, picked up 2 seats, going from 10 in the last chamber to 12.

On the left, the Socialist Party had been originally expected to advance but in fact did little more than hold its own, maintaining its 15 seats.  The Socialist Party is a former Maoist group that has moved away from extreme positions and in Dutch politics toward left social democratic positions. The original Communist Party of the Netherlands has undergone a series of mergers with Greens and others, which have produced the "Groenlinks" (GreenLeft) Party, will have 3 seats in the new chamber as opposed to 10 before, a big loss. The New Communist Party of the Netherlands, which is a party with a more traditional communist position, did not run candidates.

A number of other small-scale parties split the rest of the vote.

The election was called early because of restiveness by the Dutch public in response to an economic slump and the neo-liberal, austerity policies of Rutte's government. The final straw was the withdrawal of support for the government on the part of Wilders' Freedom Party, which had not been formally in coalition with Rutte but had supported his measures "from the outside" up to then, on the austerity issue. Rutte presented his government's resignation to the head of state, Queen Beatrix, in April, but stayed on as caretaker prime minister; he will now continue in the post.

For a number of weeks, it appeared from polling data that the Socialist Party, which is critical of the European Union and Euro currency "from the left," i.e. objecting principally to the austerity programs, would upset the applecart, but the Socialist surge in the polls did not pan out on election day. The Freedom Party opposed European integration "from the right," complaining about the wealthy Netherlands having to bail out the poorer nations.

The Netherlands is just one of a number of European countries in which disquiet with the way the structures of European integration have been working has been high but has not been fully reflected in election results. 

In spite of the widespread criticisms of the European Union, the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and their policies, voters are perhaps staying with "the devil they know" rather than risking the breakdown of existing relationships and being forced to set out in completely new directions not yet clearly understood.

Photo: Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer, via website of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands..

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