Christian democrat victory and collapse of the populists in the Netherlands


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


22 January 2003

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Deloy Corinne

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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

The CDA Christian Democrats won the Dutch General Elections by a narrow margin on 22nd January, with one additional seat in comparison with the vote on 15th May last year (44 seats, only two seats more than the Labour PvdA).

Jan Peter Balkenende, the outgoing Prime Minister will therefore be requested by Queen Beatrix to form the future Dutch government; not an easy task since the leader of the Christian Democrat Party (CDA) declared on many occasions during the electoral campaign that he did not want to govern with the Social Democrats.

The Labour Party (PvDA) achieved a score they had not dared hope for given their heavy defeat during the 15th May elections. After having fallen to its lowest point ever since the Second World War, the PvdA has won 19 additional seats in Parliament thereby claiming back its position as the country's second political movement.

The Pim Fortuyn List recorded a clear regression losing nearly three-quarters of its seats in Parliament dropping from 26 to eight only. We should point out that this result is still higher (by one seat) than the most optimistic forecasts that had been made in the polls. Results demonstrate that those who had voted for the populist movement previously mostly fell back on leftwing parties and in particular the Labour Party.

The Popular Party for Liberty and Democracy (VVD) won four additional seats in comparison with the general elections on 15th may and achieved a lower score than was forecast (thirty seats). The small movements for their part recorded mediocre results. The Democrat 66 Party lost one seat in comparison with the 15th May; in addition to this Thom de Graf, its leader, resigned from his function on the announcement of the results. The Socialist Party, that had been credited with 12 seats by the polls, ended the electoral progress it had been enjoying over the last three national elections and won 9 seats; an identical result to the one on 15th May. The Green Left lost two seats dropping from 10 down to eight., the Christian Union lost one and finally the extreme rightwing movement Liveable Netherlands (Leefbar Nederland) lost its two seats in Parliament.

During the entire campaign the Christian Democrat leader expressed his preference for the formation of a rightwing government comprising two parties: his own movement and the Popular Party for Liberty and Democracy. Since the CDA and the VVD are four seats short of the majority necessary to govern (together they have 72 seats out of 150), Jan Peter Balkenende will therefore have to resign himself to joining up with other movements. Once the election results had been announced he did however say that he was "satisfied": "At the start of the evening we thought that it would only be possible to form a government with Labour but now we can see that we might also be able to create a coalition with the VVD and D66 or the LPF", he added that he could see "a high risk" if there was to be a coalition with the PvdA.

The leader of the Democrat 66 Party emphasised that his party would not participate in a government coalition with the Christian Democrat Party and the Popular Party for Liberty and Democracy: "We do not have enough seats to play a significant role. I would strongly recommend to the new parliamentary group not to even think about it. In addition to this the CDA and the VVD want to continue with their government agreement against which we harbour strong objections". Wouter Bos, the Labour Party leader has said, for his part, that he is prepared to form a coalition with the Christian Democrats of the CDA.

The Prime Minister must therefore choose between two options: join forces with Labour (his government would then have a wide majority in Parliament) or link up with the Popular Party for Liberty and Democracy and a third movement. Negotiations between the CDA and the PvdA to form a government might be long and arduous since the Christian Democrats are opposed to the Labour Party in terms of immigration, insecurity and public finance. In addition to this the Social Democrats disagree with the Conservative programme that is not social enough in their opinion.

The new Social Democrat leader won his difficult wager by righting the situation just eight months after Labour suffered its terrible defeat and just a few weeks after his appointment as leader of the party. He is young, dynamic and extremely adept at using the media, holding a modest discourse he managed to win over the electorate. He did not hesitate in picking up on one of the hardest of the right's positions in terms of immigration policy and the fight against insecurity, threatening, for example, to expulse those immigrants who refused to learn Dutch. Hence Job Cohen, the Labour candidate for the position of Prime Minister is known abroad for having celebrated the first homosexual marriage in Amsterdam whilst he was mayor there; he is even better known in the Netherlands for having been Secretary of State for Justice responsible for political asylum in the government led by Wim Kok. In this function he revealed himself to be particularly strict leading to the adoption of new laws that have made it more difficult to obtain refugee status.

Initially the Dutch seem to have turned back to the political scene they are familiar with. However the decline of the populist movement, although it is real, is no less deceptive and the Pim Fortuyn List's results might very well just be a smoke screen. Immigration, security, Islam and the integration of foreigners into Dutch society that were taboo subjects until just a few months ago have dominated the general elections. The leader of the Popular Party for Liberty and Democracy, Gerry Zalm did not hesitate in adopting Pim Fortuyn's words by saying that "the Netherlands is full". "Populism is not dead, we might even say that it is in good health, and can be found in all of the parties, in the flexibility with which they adapt their policies", confirms André Krouwel, a political analyst from the Vrije University in Amsterdam. Much is expected of the future government in terms of immigration, security and the crisis of the public services (health and education system).

The general elections were also marked by the appearance of a number of small movements defending extremely specific interests such as the Future Party offering a drop in taxes on alcohol and the reimbursement of condoms by the Social Security; the Ratelband List who were promoting the division of the country into administrative units of 25,000 inhabitants, the, dissident of the Pim Fortuyn List, Winny de Jong, and even the Animals Party.

The day after the early general elections the Dutch electorate had apparently repositioned themselves according to their traditional divisions. The Netherlands have returned to the origianl three political currents: Christian Democrat, Labour and Liberal. In spite of his preference for a centre-right government, Jan Peter Balkenende will have to compromise in order to form his Government. And this is necessary just to acknowledge the Dutch vote and to avoid building new obstacles in the constitution of a stable government that the Netherlands need now more than ever after the annus horribilis that 2002 was for the political life of the country.

General Election Results on 22nd January:

Participation : 80,3%

Source: Agence France Presse

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