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Netherlands - General Elections

Victory for Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's party and a break through for the extreme left in the ducth general elections

Victory for Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's party and a break through for the extreme left in the ducth general elections

23/11/2006 - Results

As forecast in all the opinion polls the Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA) led by outgoing Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende won the general elections on 22nd November. The party took 41 seats in the Lower Chamber of Parliament i.e. 3 less than during the last elections on 22nd January 2003. The Labour Party (PvdA) led by Wouter Bos, the main opposition party won 32 seats (-10 seats). The Socialist Party (SP) made the breakthrough announced by the polls winning 26 seats (+17 seats). The Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) led by Mark Rutte, a party which is a member of the outgoing government coalition came took fourth place with 22 seats (-6). The Green Left (GL) won 7 seats (-1), the Christian Union (CU) 6 (+3), and the Reformed Political Party, 2. Finally the Freedom Party (PvdV) led by Geert Wilders, an extreme rightwing party won 8 seats. The Party for the Defence of Animals will be entering in the Parliament with 2 seats. The leftwing coalition (Labour Party/Socialist Party/Green Left) won 65 seats in all, i.e. 11 short of the absolute majority. For their part the outgoing government parties (Christian Democrat Appeal/Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy) won 63 seats. No coalition therefore enjoys an absolute majority nor is anyone in a position to form a government alone. "The electoral results are complicated," declared outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende when the results were announced.

The participation rate was high at 80.1%; the same as the one recorded in the last general elections on 22nd January 2003.

"Once more we are the leading party. Four years of work have been rewarded and I am proud of that," declared Jan Peter Balkenende when the results were announced. "I am extremely proud of the results and I really do hope that people are grateful and that we shall be able to continue the type of policy which meets with success," he maintained as he went to vote. The irony of the situation was that at the same time opposition leader Wouter Bos was prevented from fulfilling his civic duty since he had forgotten some vital documents and had to return home to pick up the missing papers.

The outgoing Prime Minister was the victor in the duel which had brought him into conflict with the Labour leader and in an election that André Krouwel, political analyst at the Free University of Amsterdam qualified as "a presidential election between the leader of the Christian Democrat Appeal and that of the Labour Party." Jan Peter Balkenende is enjoying the results of the initially unpopular reforms undertaken by his government over the last four years. "We are harvesting sugar after having swallowed acid. The Netherlands is now working," he declared during the presentation of the 2007 budget in September. After years of austerity the Prime Minister can indeed display a set of satisfactory economic results: the country's unemployment level is at 4% (cf. Eurostat), its growth rate should rise beyond 3% in 2006 and its public deficit represents 0.1% of the GDP. Over the last four years the government has privatised the healthcare, transport and energy systems; it has reduced unemployment benefits by more than one third, it has done away with early retirement aid and tightened up on providing "social minima"; it has helped bring the Netherlands back to work by halving the number of people on sick leave.

According to all political observers Jan Peter Balkenende undertook a good electoral campaign showing that he was extremely relaxed, clear and sincere; he did not hesitate in saying that more sacrifices would have to be made in order to maintain the economy's good health. His thoughts on values also found approval amongst the Dutch who are unsure about the future of their way of life which is based on tolerance and openness to the world and which they believe is threatened by globalisation. "Discipline and respect are the recipes to build bridges between the various groups and organisations in the Netherlands in order to take society forwards. Civility and good behaviour are words that are no longer reviled in the Netherlands," he repeated.

The outgoing Prime Minister, who is fifty years old, is nicknamed Harry Potter because of his youthful appearance and comes from Zealand (south of the country). Taking office after the elections on 15th May 2002 he had to govern (until the early elections on 22nd January 2003) with the populists from the Pim Fortuyn List. Four years later he is now in a position to form his fourth government. "He is perfect because he is like us all. We love normal politicians. Jan Peter Balkenende makes mistakes and people like that. The voter thinks "I could do the same thing." We are an extremely egalitarian people," said Jean Tillie, professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam. "He is boring, thinks the voter, but in the right measure and he is worthy of confidence," added Martijn Lampert from the pollster Motivaction. "He is the honest, dependable Protestant of whom the Dutch say: we would buy a second hand car from him," maintains Geert Van Istendael the Belgian writer, a connoisseur of Dutch political life. "The 11th September happened, Pim Fortuyn rose to power. The entire situation became unstable. Jan Peter Balkenende manoeuvred very well at that time. He remained calm and that was to his benefit. During that turbulent period voters were looking for someone who inspired confidence," said the Vice President of the Christian Democrat Appeal's parliamentary group, Gerda Verburg.

Wouter Bos, spoke of his "disappointment"; he is the grand "loser" in these elections. "The Labour Party undertook a poor campaign, multiplying its mistakes notably on retirement pensions," analysed political expert Maurice de Hond. The PvdA, the main opposition party undeniably lost voters to the more radical left embodied by the Socialist Party. This party, which is calling for a strong State, an increase in taxes on the highest incomes, the capping of the salaries received by the Chief Executives of the big companies and an increase in the allocations granted to the poorest members of society succeeded in rallying the protest votes to its name. Its result is comparable to that won by the populist party, the Left Party, in the German general elections on 18th September 2005. "The Netherlands showed that they wanted a more social and more human government," declared Socialist Party leader, Jan Marijnissen when the results were announced.

The Socialist Party, an opposition formation which was created in 1971, is anti-liberal, anti-European and defended the "NO" vote in the referendum on June 1st 2005; it campaigned against the economic and social reforms undertaken by the government but it also oriented its campaign against the Labour Party which it accuses of complacency with regard to liberalism and which it believes is too close to the Christian Democrat Appeal. Several political analysts believe that the Socialist Party was the main beneficiary in the collapse of the Pim Fortuyn List over the last few years. The populist leader maintained that the Socialist Party had "analysed the Netherlands' problems well but not the solutions". "I would qualify this party as populist and leftwing. It is not racist – it is certainly not that – but it has however taken a firm stance on immigration: it notably suggests making it obligatory for immigrants to learn Dutch and promotes greater integration," insists Geert Van Instendael. "We are witnessing a trend towards extremes," analysed former Christian Democrat Appeal minister, Piet Hein Donner. "The person who succeeds in creating a coalition, whatever it is, will find it difficult to put a government programme together," he added.

In line with the Constitution outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende delivered the vote of his government's resignation to Queen Beatrix on the day of the election. The latter is due to appoint someone to form the future government coalition rapidly. The person forming the government is traditionally the leader of the party which comes out ahead in the general elections but it can also be a representative of civil society. Negotiations can be very long and last weeks, even months. The government coalition does not need to hold the majority of votes in the Senate in order to govern. After these general elections the Netherlands appears to be leaning towards a grand coalition bringing together the Christian Democrat Appeal and the PvdA, the most frequent mode of government in the Netherlands since the war. This coalition which does not enjoy the majority (73 seats), will have to be open to at least one more party.

General Election Results – 22nd November 2006 in the Netherlands

Participation rate: 80.1%

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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