Way back when (by which I mean 2006), I spent six weeks on contract in the Netherlands during the lead-up to the 2006 election, and it was way too cool to see young Socialists proselytizing on the streets of Amsterdam. It was an interesting result, with a breakthrough for both the SP and the xenophobic PVV.
This year’s election – called by VVD Prime Minister Mark Rutte (pictured) after his government lost the PVV’s support – at first glance promises a similar result, according to the latest monthly Ipsos Netherlands polls, namely a surge for the SP and the continued decline of the old-line left and right parties.
According to de Politeke Barometer, June 2, if an election were called today, the result would be:
VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy, right-wing liberal) 32 seats, +1
SP (Socialist Party, far left) 27, +12
PvdA (Labour Party, centre-left) 24, -6
PVV (Party for Freedom, far right) 22, -2
D’66 (Democrats ’66, social liberal) 15, +5
CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal, centre-right) 14, -7
Others 15, -4
The Dutch use an almost-pure form of proportional representation, which makes government formation messy as hell. The best defense of the Netherlands’ system has to be, “Hey, at least it’s not Belgium.” Since the demise of the “purple” cabinet (PvdA, VVD, D’66) in 2002, Dutch elections have been marked by extreme voter volatility; the outgoing Rutte cabinet (VVD, CDA) only had a minority and relied on the questionable support of Geert Wilders’ PVV. Meanwhile, Labour and the Christian Democrats – formerly the bedrock of all Dutch post-war governments – have been in steady decline.
While the shift to the pro-business, yet nominally liberal VVD seems benign enough, the occasional surges for the SP and especially for anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic parties like the Pim Fortuyn List and now the Party for Freedom are frightening. In ten years there’s been a noticeable erosion of the Dutch consensus on social issues, marked by less benevolence toward multiculturalism, soft drugs, and the gays. Interestingly, there’s also a growing divide between communitarian parties of both the left and right and the more classical liberal, individualist politics of the VVD in particular (hence the PVV’s refusal to back Rutte’s austerity budget).
The recent Ipsos polls point to continued chaos in government formation, since the outgoing government, even with the PVV’s support, would come 8 seats short of a majority. The SP numbers are worrisome, if only because they lack potential coalition partners; Labour isn’t going to back a Socialist Prime Minister, and anyway, no other party except GroenLinks (“GreenLeft”) would sign up for such an arrangement.
The Dutch had a good experience, at least for a few terms, with the Kok cabinets, which seemed to broker the interests of its coalition partners rather well. Is it time for a new purple coalition including the VVD, PvdA, and D’66? Add in GroenLinks (currently projected to win 5 seats) and you’ve got yourself a razor-thin majority for a social liberal/business liberal/social democratic/environmentalist cabinet.
That may well be the most stable, least divisive result, so hey, maybe someday all those backpacking Brit tourists in Amsterdam will once again be able to smoke pot legally while ogling the legal, unionized prostitutes.
Sigh…I miss the old Netherlands.