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Netherlands - General Elections

General elections in the Netherlands, a round up one week before the vote

General elections in the Netherlands, a round up one week before the vote

15/11/2006 - D-7

Just one week before the general elections on 22nd November the battle is proving to be a narrowly fought one. Whilst last spring the possibility of a fourth government led by Jan Peter Balkenende (Christian Democrat Appeal – CDA) seemed unlikely the trend has now taken a different turn. The Prime Minister's party is leading the polls. However nothing is yet definite since to continue governing the kingdom the Christian Democrat Appeal will still have to find partners with whom to form a government coalition if it wins the election. Its survival also depends on the results achieved by the other parties. After a rather dull campaign launch in a country which has however experienced great tension over the last few years, the debate has gradually become a passionate one. Immigration and Islam which have dominated political life since 2002 have been avoided in spite of everything by all politicians except for the parties on the extreme right.

The present Prime Minister continues to lead his campaign finding strength in his economic results. Jan Peter Balkenende made a point of claiming to be the initiator of the reforms undertaken by his government and which the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) has a tendency to want to make its own. "The reforms were developed within my party's scientific institute and I, as a representative of the second Chamber, was the first to suggest paying back the State's debt in one generation" he maintained on 8th November. Likewise Jan Peter Balkenende, who is often asked about the coalition he would privilege were he to be appointed Prime Minister, is still refusing to talk on the subject.

For his part the leader of the main opposition party, (Labour Party – PvdA), Wouter Bos, is trying to convince the electorate that his advent at the Tourelle, the HQ of the head of government, would herald a real change. Hence he maintained that if he became Head of Government he would be more accessible than his predecessor. "People would see me more at meaningful times and places in the type of society we want. For example when an innocent child is held in a prison cell or when food banks are created or when someone murders someone like Theo van Gogh." In an interview in the daily Telegraaf published on 11th November he declared, "I am convinced that what was described as a peat bog fire at the time when Pim Fortuyn was around is still burning. Jan Peter Balkenende could have been the answer to Pim Fortuyn but it has not been the case." Wouter Bos finally said that he would cancel all increases in rent planned by the present government if elected.

Although until now he had refused to talk on the issue - "I shall not allow myself to be locked into the leftwing," he stressed again on 3rd October – the Labour leader said on 7th November that he would turn to the left if he had to form a government. The divide between the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Labour Party is according to Wouter Bos, too great to envisage a coalition with the liberal party. Political analysts believe that the silence on the part of the opposition leader on his coalition projects (or when he says "he believes that anything is possible") as well as his moderate electoral campaign have helped maintain the confusion about his party's position in the face of the liberal formations who have clearly made the continuation of their present policy part of the election stakes. Wouter Bos has also blundered by excluding candidates of Turkish origin from his electoral lists since they do not acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915. Indeed this exclusion might have negative effects on the electorate from the immigrant community, who are mostly usually in favour of the Labour Party.

Within the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy, Mark Rutte is trying to distinguish himself from the leaders of the two main political parties who he accuses of lacking ambition with regard to their pursuit of the major social reforms required. There has always been great internal tension between two trends that dominate the liberal party, one being liberal the other more populist. The first is represented by Mark Rutte, the second by the Integration Minister Rita Verdonk. The latter failed last May to take over the leadership of the Party. Beaten by Mark Rutte who won 51% versus 46% of supporters' votes the minister lies second on their list. In an interview with the daily AD Haagsche Courant on 13th November she said she would like to be part of the next government as Security Minister or Minister for Public Health.

According to political analyst Philip van Praag of the University of Amsterdam, "the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy would gain by becoming more dependent on the Christian Democrat Appeal and by maintaining the possibility of forming a coalition with the Labour Party." Only this choice would offer opportunities to a party that has not succeeded in taking advantage of the disappearance of the Pim Fortuyn List and the chaos amongst the Democrats 66.

The Democrats 66 (D66) who caused the fall of the government coalition in July has still not managed to take off in the polls. "If the electorate is giving up on the party en masse as shown in the polls it is mostly the fault of the Party itself," says Hans van Mierlo, co-founder of the party. "We were led astray by the coalition with the Christian Democrat Appeal and the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy – we gave up slightly too much of our identity. The party's biggest problem is that has been linked to the Integration Minister, Rita Verdonk for too long," he continued.

The Christian Union says that it has had enough of the "tough, unpleasant and unjust" attacks that it has suffered on the part of the Christian Democrat Appeal. Indeed Joop Wijn, Finance Minister called the party's leader, André Rouvoet "Rouvoet the Red" and MP Mirjam Sterk qualified the denominational party as being "Green Leftwing Christian". Finally the president of the CDA's parliamentary group said: "A vote for the Christian Union is a vote for the Labour Party." Words which hark back to Mark Rutte's comments a few weeks ago, when the leader of the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy said there would be no possibility of governing with the "clearly leftwing" Christian Union.

Just one week before the general elections on 22nd November the Christian Democrat Appeal is still leading in the polls. The main party in the government coalition is credited with 46 seats in a poll undertaken by NSS Nova which was published on 13th November. The CDA is ahead of the PvdA which is due to win 33 seats. The Socialist Party (SP) which is pushing ahead is due to win 26 seats and take third place, the VVD would follow this with 24 MPs.

"There is a fundamental difference in comparison with the electoral campaign four years ago; confidence in my party has increased enormously. This proves that the electorate is not interested in the duel between Wouter Bos and Jan Peter Balkenende. It is not the Prime Minister who counts but policy," declared the Socialist Party leader Jan Marijnissen, who according to the polls is believed to be the most convincing, the most appealing and most honest of all the chief candidates. The popularity of the SP leader is particularly damaging to Wouter Bos. Some observers of political life go as far as saying that the PvdA victory now lies in the hands of the Socialist Party electorate. In the newspaper Volkskrant, Peter Kanne from TNS Nipo maintains that the rise of the Socialist Party is being achieved to the detriment of the Labour Party. He believes that Wouter Bos will find it hard to take voters from the Christian Democrat Appeal or the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy, however he might be able to conquer some Socialist Party supporters: "38% of those intending to vote for the Socialist Party say that the Labour Party is their second choice. Their readiness to vote for Labour will depend on how Wouter Bos behaves during the electoral campaign."

According to the polls the Dutch do not want a coalition between the CDA and the Labour Party after 22nd November. Only 2% favour a government rallying the kingdom's two main parties.

Finally, we should note that since 1973 every Prime Minister who has stood for another term in office has been re-elected.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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