Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

The Dutch political left

by Nomad Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:59:57 AM EST

One more day before national elections are held in the Netherlands. I have resorted to speed-diarying (in English) to get every electable party a necessary introduction in the hodgepodge that is the Dutch political landscape.

Yesterday, I dabbled into the Dutch political right. Below, an overview of the Dutch political left. (There is still bias.)

Left is somewhat less cluttered than the political right. This is also unnecessary as the left parties are capable to increase clutter themselves quite proficiently. Excepting D66, all left parties have been stuck in opposition the past three Balkenende governments and all parties have gone through some phase of reinvention or redesign, for good or for worse.

Democraten 66 - D66 (Social Liberals)
Founded by a group of intellectuals in the sixties, D66 was historically a volatile mixture between democrats advocating drastic reforms to the democratic process and progressive liberals supporting euthanasia, abortion and gay marriage, among others. Over the years, the focus has been on education and the environment and of course democratisation, such as public referenda.
D66 formed the third (and last) party of the government coalition for the second Balkenende government, from 2003 until this past summer when then party-leader Van der Laan pulled the plug. The story of D66 has been one of epic tragedy, starting from the day they sold out their ideals by joining the CDA-VVD coalition. Large rumblings ensued within the party, and got increasingly louder with the de-humanising treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers under Verdonk. Things hit a rapid when D66 minister De Graaf of democratisation got fouled (ironically) by a PvdA blockage in the Dutch Senate during a crucial amendment. A coalition crisis set in which got fixed by tit for tat promises to the CDA-VVD coalition and of the remaining ideals practically naught came of it. Shedding prominent member after member - including Van der Laan, when she lost her leadership to current leader Pechtold (see picture) - the party imploded further. They've now squandered most of their credentials and are polling maximally two seats from the measly six they had left. It remains to be seen whether D66 manages to reinvent itself during the coming years and pull a Phoenix or will dramatically see its complete demise.

PvdA (Labour)
A traditional socialist party, founded since 1946 with the merger of left-leaning, social parties. The PvdA also embraced liberal, humanist and feminist ideas during its lifetime, modernizing as it went along. Its latest bout of navel-gazing and redecoration ensued with the party's massive collapse after almost 12 years of governance and the rise of Pim Fortuyn which pushed the party into opposition. Most of the newest round of adaptations is believed to be driven by the party's relatively young strongman and clever boy, Wouter Bos, a former employee of Royal Dutch Shell.
For an alternative to Balkenende, PvdA plays a crucial role. It's the biggest centre-left party which has harassed the CDA increasingly for their degradation of the welfare state and their lack of policy for a social society. Because CDA and PvdA are in philosophy really not much apart and form the largest traditional parties, it became essential for both party-leaders to stress key differences between the two parties, leading to the cop-out "Battle of the Titans" between Bos and Balkenende. In all honesty, both men are tied to each other - for now.
Unfortunately, the PvdA suffers the same problem the VVD has on the right: Appease turncoat CDA votes, and part of the PvdA voters walks to the left, mostly SP (see below). Appease to the left, and Bos makes himself look like a leftie and CDA boosts its numbers. Bos is left in a fix, and with less than 24 hours before the election starts, PvdA is still looking at a loss in seats in the polls.

GroenLinks (Greens)
For a third time during an election, the Greens are led by the charismatic Femke Halsema, although the rest of her party members remain invisible. Accused to be an intellectual elite party with no eye for the economic side of the world, GroenLinks really forms the progressive heart of the left. Embracing individual freedom, the current party under Halsema is focussed on emancipation, equality in wealth distribution and a left liberal model finding the right balance between economic growth and ecological/ environmental responsibility - themes that will all do incredibly well here at ET.
Although Halsema is a sharp and witty debater, she has not been able to punch through the furore unleashed by the noisy VVD and the clashing PvdA and CDA. Yet because Halsema also knows that the only way to remove Balkenende is to have a powerful left bloc, she has constantly courted Wouter Bos for an admission to cooperate after the election. So far, without success.
I had picked Halsema as the November Surprise, because the environmental vibe in the Netherlands is on a steep increase - an issue completely ignored except by GroenLinks. But I'm not seeing much indication it's going to happen.

SP (Socialists)
Instead, the November Surprise (so far) went to the Socialist Party, the classic protest alternative. Not surprisingly, their emblem is a thrown tomato. Originating from the extreme left with Maoist roots, they previously advocated the rescinding of the Royal House and the withdrawal of the Netherlands from NATO. Although its party program remains conservative and suspicious of the powers of the European Union, the SP has become an acceptable option at the left. Most of that increased popularity of the SP can be pinned at the political veteran Jan Marijnissen, leading the party since 1994. His credentials during his 12 years of opposition are practically indisputable and he's all around considered to be one of the most able and trustworthy politicians of the country - even by those who fiercely oppose his views.
Marijnissen is a self-made, working man politician and he has constantly guarded to keep the focus on local communities and keep contact with the Joe Public on the street. His biggest gains have been consistently in working class neighbourhoods. It's believed that the EU conservatism of the SP actually manages to pull in former Fortuyn voters, because both parties were not too keen on a flood of cheap immigrants, be them Muslims or Poles... The English part of the SP website is excellent, BTW. Better than most other parties.

Partij voor de Dieren (Pro-animal party)
The emancipation of animals - by humans. The Pro-animal party is more or less a single-issue party - on the breach for animal wellbeing wherever injustice is done. Cue in the tune of the A-team. A battalion of Dutch VIPs - writers, artists, actresses, television makers - have thrown their support behind the party.

However, I have tagged them the Animal Mob because they've gone completely bonkers with this crusade. Were this party to take the majority, all circuses will be banned, zoos will mostly likely follow, all lab animals will have to be released, using animals in pictures will be forbidden, hunting will be outlawed and everyone who buys beef will be shot in the head.
So, okay, the latter will not happen. I think most of the frustration that drives this party is the blind elephant that is the bio-industry. Sadly, environment and bio-industry have simply not been "hot topics" in the debate the past weeks. But the party's outlook on animal welfare is skewed beyond the realistic.

And that's it. I was going to do a little song and dance on my personal projections and thoughts and an update of current affaris, but I've grown weary of politics... Perhaps later, when I try to post the Dutch political compass. I feel less dirty than yesterday, but some tea is definitely in order now.

show a renewed boost in the PvdA (but still at a loss), the VVD in stasis and GroenLinks climbing back to their old level. It has been estimated that up to 40 percent of potential voters are undecided - the scales can still tip over rapidly in a situation likes this.

Party - Current Seats-Projected Seats

CDA             44-43
PvdA             42-37
VVD             28-20
SP             9-24
Fortuyn         8-2
GroenLinks      8-8
D66             6-3
ChristenUnie    3-5
SGP             2-2
Wilders         0-3
EénNL           0-2
Animal Party    0-1

Source: Barometer

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 09:52:57 AM EST
I heard today that some regions are reverting from electronic back to paper balloting (just for this election?). Out of curiosity, do you have any details of the reason for the switch?
by det on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:04:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After a report on the un-safety of voting machines the minister decided to switch back to red pencils for part of the voting machines. It's the same old story we know from the United States - which also kicked off the scrutiny for the Dutch voting machines.
by Nomad (Bjinse) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:14:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, at least it is good that an elected official acts on an identified the problem (damn! - my expectations have dropped so low).
by det on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:21:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The key reason was that some of the voting computers (10%) generated a radio signal which could be read from a distance of more than 10 meters. This threatened voting secrecy.

My city Amsterdam and some other small communities will be voting with an old-style red-pencil.

by Indrah on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:55:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So not at all like in the USA, but care about a much less critical problem.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 11:01:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well. Many of us do worry that someone might infiltrate the software to steal votes and fix the election. Like many in the US suspect (Diebold etc.).

This is what the group "we-dont-trust-voting-computers" is primarily about. The manufacturers and the government so far have denied that this is a problem.

Personally I agree with the view that voting computers are a bad solution for a non-existent problem.

by Indrah on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 11:17:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having read both of your excellent diaries I have taken the liberty to extract some statements from your descriptions of the parties, a kind of short hand guide for poll watching as my memory does not otherwise hold up... Cutting left and right without too much care, hope you don't mind...

  • Partij voor de Dieren (Pro-animal party)
    Animal Mob

  • SP (Socialists)
    the classic protest alternative, conservative and suspicious of the powers of the European Union, has become an acceptable option at the left.

  • GroenLinks (Greens)
    progressive heart of the left. individual freedom, emancipation, equality in wealth distribution, left liberal model, balance between economic growth and ecological/ environmental responsibility
  • PvdA (Labour)
    liberal, humanist and feminist ideas, modernizing as it went along. the biggest centre-left party
  • Democraten 66 - D66 (Social Liberals)
    D66 formed the third (and last) party of the government coalition for the [current government]
  • CDA (ChristianDemocrats) -- Centre
    A coalition party of the current government readily embraces members adhering other faiths than Christian ones.
  • VVD (Liberals) -- Cerntre right
    formed the second important leg to the [current government], [pro] welfare state, progressive in individual rights, market liberalisation, private entrepreneurship.

  • ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion) -- Centre right
    more conservative than VVD and CDA, Socially, remarkable program, could just as easily class the ChristianUnion as a conservative party at the left.

  • SGP (Political Reformed Party) -- Centre right
    The Dutch Christian Fundies.
  • Fortuyn (Fortuynists) -- Hard right   
    Good riddance.
  • EénNL (Hard-Right, former Fortuynists) -- Hard right
    His choices on immigration and integration, bring him to the right of the spectre.
  • Groep Wilders / Partij voor de Vrijheid  (Wilders Group, former VVD)  -- Hard right
    "tsunami of islamisation" , Extremely libertarian, Opposes further EU enlargements, wants to scrap the European Parliament.

  • by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:34:19 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I should work out your "scorecard" to a (slightly) less biased overview/summary with 4-5 party key-points.

    Too exhausted with politics now... Need... air...

    by Nomad (Bjinse) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:56:24 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Possible Coalitions:

    CDA-VVD: 63 seats
    PvdA-SP-GroenLinks: 69
    CDA-PvdA: 80

    Needed for the majority: 76

    Basically seems like a CDA-PvdA coalition or bust.

    A centre-right minority coalition would need the support of all the small right parties plus both of the small christian parties. This is not a sufficient basis. The CDA and VVD will need to get more seats, at least 70 between them, which I don't think is on the cards.

    A left minority coalition would need the support of D66 and the ChristenUnie. That's less, but the differences between the three left parties are too big for them to be able to hold together as a minority government.

    Other combinations are currently unthinkable.

    An interesting question: could a third party be added to the CDA-PvdA coalition? I'm thinking either GroenLinks or the ChristenUnie. Maybe the differences there are not too great to be overcome...

    by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 06:01:00 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    The story of D66 has been one of epic tragedy

    LOL! How fitting, how succint.

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.

    by DoDo on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 10:35:03 AM EST
    So who forms the government? Is a majority necessary or is it enough to be the biggest group formable? Is the prime minister seat more or less a given for the party leader of the biggest party or is it a matter of negotiation skills?

    With so many parties in parliament it can give a really interesting game of Diplomacy.

    Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

    by A swedish kind of death on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 06:13:22 PM EST
    The queen appoints an "informateur" who will start discussions with the biggest party first. If no majority can be found with this party then s/he will go and discuss options with smaller parties.
    by Indrah on Tue Nov 21st, 2006 at 06:40:35 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    What happens is this:

    All parties that are elected get a one on one with the Queen to ask them what the best cabinet would be. She then appoints a person (the informateur) who gets the reports of these talks, and tells him to look for the best option available. It's also possible she tells him to look for a certain coalition, but it's not mandatory.

    He then goes to talk to the different parties, maybe other people, and determines the best new coalition.
    Then, he reports back with the most viable solution, and then the Queen appoints a 'formateur', whose job it is to form the new cabinet. This person is almost always the next prime minister, and usually the head of the biggest party.

    When the 'formateur' is done, he reports to the Queen, she swears them all in, they get a nice picture done, and then business as usual.

    by Freud (freud@freudie.org) on Wed Nov 22nd, 2006 at 08:43:27 AM EST
    [ Parent ]

    Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]