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The Dutch political landscape

by koenzel Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 07:10:18 AM EST

From the front page ~ whataboutbob

With the municipal elections less then six months away, and general elections coming up in 2007, I thought it might be interesting for all of you to get a heads-up from the Netherlands. In this post, relevent recent electoral history.

In the 1990s, the Dutch economy doubled in size. The country was governed by the 'Purple' Coalition. The Labour, Liberal(in name, liberal/conservative in practice) and social-liberals governed from 1994 until 2002 with a small election victory in 1998. In was a very irrational coalition, based more on realpolitik than principles. The christian-democratic party had been in government since forever, and switched between coalitions with liberals and labour.

Voters, and politicians, got tired of the attitude of the Christians (direct quote: "We rule this country!"). The purple coalition was very succesfull in turning a shrinking economy into a world-known succes-story. But the ideological differences between labour and the liberals made it difficult to solve the problems, such as growing numbers of refugees, long waiting lists in hospitals, etc. They usually just threw money at the problem, and lowered taxes, so each big party got something.

In 2000, the general mood was that everything went well. But this was a myth that the elite just wanted to believe. Along came Pim Fortuyn, who entered politics in Rotterdam, the second city of the Netherlands and the largest harbor in the world. Like most industry-based cities, unemployment was high, and many immigrants lived in the city.

The 2002 municipal elections felt like an earthquake in the Hague (the seat of government). Fortuyn and his party entered the city-council with 16 seats out of 45, instantly becoming the biggest party. This was especially tough on Labour, the party that had governed Rotterdam for the last 40 years.

Fortuyn rode a wave of discontent. He wrote a book called 'The ruins of eight years Purple' which became an instant best-seller. He also argued something had to be done about the problems with foreign-born dutchmen (Morrocan and Turkish guestworkers who never went back). This position was not something new, the Socialist Party and the leader of the Liberals had argued this for years (but with different solutions, of course).

He was the anti-politician. He was an academic- former proffesor, Ph.D, smoked sigars, was openly gay and had a rich mans accent. He'd been a columnist for years, and argued his many views in snappy quotes. He railed against the career politicians in the Hague, and wanted a more business-like approach.

On the evening of his massive succes in Rotterdam a debate was held on national TV on the implications for the general elections. The leaders of the major parties and Fortuyn were all present, but the leader of Labour refused to shake his hand, congratulate or look at him. Melkert, the Labour leader, was widely assumed to be the next prime-minister. His behaviour on this debate defined his image and led to his fall. Fortuyn was high on adrenalime and the contrast between the exciting, energetic new candidate and 'old politics' couldn't be clearer than it was this evening.

The general election campaign was the most exciting in recent memory- the press railed against Fortuyn, politicians claimed he was xenophobic and fascist and he had to leave his party because of controversial comments over the constitution. He founded his own party, List Pim Fortuyn, and hurried to get enough people on his list. Some people called him up or knocked on his door, and found themselves on the list several days later.

He was assassinated by an animal activist a week before the election. It was an extremely tense situation, but it was decided that elections should be held. The Pim Fortuyn List became the second-largest party (26 seats out of 150) after the Christian Democrats 43 seats. Many later claimed that had Fortuyn lived, the party would have been the largest. Other say that people voted for Fortuyn because he was killed.

The Christian Democrats, under their leader Jan Peter Balkenende became the biggest party, much larger than expected. Analysts contribute this to the turmoil in the days before the election- many voters got confused, weren't going to vote for a dead man or for `old politics', so voted for the only available alternative.

Without their leader, the List Pim Fortuyn was a mess of biblical proportions. Chaos ensued. The liberals, along with Labour the biggest loser of the elections, joined the Christian Democrats and the List Pim Fortuyn in the only realistic coalition. One that took only 90 days to fall apart. Infighting among LPF ministers, unrest among their parliamentarians- the LPF was news every single day.

After the massive defeat of 2002 the Labour party had changed leaders. (they had lost 19 of their 45 seats). Under Wouter Bos and returned as a major party. The public, fed up with the failing leadership op Balkenende (the other reason why his first government fell apart) showed him gaining every day on the Christians. This had some other consequences as well: the small left-wing parties, the Socialist Party and the Greens, had seen their numbers swell in polls but when the elections became a horse race between Balkenende and Bos (who refused to become Prime Minister due to his inexperience, if Labour should win the Mayor of Amsterdam(Job Cohen) would become PM). The left rallied behind Bos, while the right supported Balkenende (they didn't like him, but disliked Labour more- strategic voting is an art here in the Netherlands).

On election eve, Balkenende won 44 seats, and Labour 42. The huge groundswell for Labour made a coalition between the two a logical consequence of the results. The Christian Democrats voters are generally left-moderate, just very loyal to their party. But Balkenende and Bos didn't get along, and the Christians got the Liberals and D66 to form a coalition. This was quite a shock to observers, because the leader of D66 had refused to join such a coalition on election eve, on the grounds that the party had lost seats and should recuperate in opposition.

Balkenende's approval rating is even lower than Bush's, 19%. He joined the US in Iraq while over 60% of the populace was against. Polls have shown Labour winning big since the collapse of coalition negotiations between Balkenende and Bos. The government has introduced rigid laws to tighten immigration and extradite refugees (even those who have had children here), sobered the disabled laws, supported Bush, privatized health insurance. The public doesn't like the direction the government has set out- though it remains to be seen if Labour can prove to be a credible alternative. Interestingly enough, the centre-right government has made a centre-left (Labour, Socialist, Green) government a reality, in the polls at least. But I'll share my view on the next elections in another post :)

... a Dutchman who writes well about Dutch politics. Good to see it here.

I'll await your next column eagerly.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 12:01:50 PM EST
If you have any questions about this column or dutch politics in general- i'll be glad to answer them!
by koenzel (koen@vanschie.net) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 12:08:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Waitin.. waiting.. waiting...

for the results...It will be intereting to see...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 12:20:18 PM EST
Thanks for this overview diary. I was living in Amsterdam in 2001 and a lot of the Fortuyn issues were rumbling in the press, but I had left before his stunning success in 2002.

I lost track of things after his death and the election and I look forward very much to your diary about the upcoming elections.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 01:30:55 PM EST
Well, let me tell you that things were worse and are better now but are probably going south because of (see Metatone) it. Six months ago I had a few drinks with that Dutch Member of the European Parliament in a a pub near Matonge who told me that he/she had been well determined and prepared to go underground before the Fortuyn killing happened and that the killing of Fortuyn stopped him/her from taking up arms against the government. Heavy stuff. Good drinks.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819
by Ritter on Fri Nov 18th, 2005 at 05:43:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Additional background on Dutch politics and issues have been diaried @BooMan ::

STATISTICS Dutch Vote :: FINAL - NO 62% ¶ A Disaster for Europe

Beautiful Dutch Democracy ¶ June 1, 2005

Q: Dutch Justice Well Organized & Exemplary? A: No. ◊ by creve coeur @dKos

Oui aka creve coeur and new creve coeur @dKos.

"Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason."


'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Sat Nov 19th, 2005 at 05:39:10 AM EST
Thanks for this diary!

A question: in what state is D66 now? Was it abadoned by its voters for joining an anti-progressive coalition?

Also, could you clarify what you meant with this: "sobered the disabled laws"?

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

by DoDo on Sat Nov 19th, 2005 at 06:01:54 AM EST
the party is currently suffering from a split in philosophy and course between the older and the younger generation. The older generation, those who kick-started the party, are saying the party should stay its old course; let's call them the traditionalists. The younger, more progressive generation are saying that the party needs to re-invent itself to keep a credible face; let's call those the modernists. Personally, I'm starting to favour the modernist view more and more which is focussed on a more social policy within a liberal world and strives for better health care, education and transformation of the way how politics are done. This is of course typical as the D66 party now poll only 3 seats if elections were held today. The ideological tussle between the members doesn't help, and the participation of the D66 in the current administration does not reflect well on them either. So yes, I think they got punished for selling out.
by Nomad (Bjinse) on Sun Nov 20th, 2005 at 04:58:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd split the party in a realpolitik wing, cq. find a reason to stay relevant after losing their 'crown jewels', and more principled politicians who don't see the reason of being when you have no real guiding philosophy left (D66 wanted to modernise the political system- choose mayors, PM, binding referenda).

Problem is that most of the 'principled' voters have bailed ship, making the case for the realpolitikers much easier. If D66 doesn't find a new face, the party is gone as a national political party of consequence- 3 seats is just too little.

The charm of D66 used to be that is was a true moderate party- progressive on social issues, more conservative on fiscal issues. They also have a certain air, a sense of reason in their candidates- call it intellectualism- that made it appealing for the better educated. This is the reason that they won 17 seats in 1994- the year the Christians were decapitized. They've lost that appeal now they have helped Balkenende II (his second government) in power.

All kind of old celebrity politicians from the past, from old leaders to founders, have argued that D66 really doesn't have any reason for being anymore. It was never intented as a regular political party- they wanted to shake up politics, make it more transparant- better. But try tell that to people who spent their life working themselves up the ranks :)

by koenzel (koen@vanschie.net) on Sun Nov 20th, 2005 at 07:59:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The law that sets out policy for incapacitated workers is called the WAO. This law has been misused in the past by employers (with the tacit approval of the government) who sent employees they didn't need into WAO.

Under the 'Purple'-coalition, employers are responsible for their own WAO cases (and have to insure themselves to pay their benefits, so they supposedly take better care of their personel) and it's harder to enter the WAO. These reforms reduced the numbers of people under the WAO greatly- and the urgency for reform was gone, really.

Then, the government brought new plans. Making it harder to enter and  harder to stay in the WAO (people who were disallowed to work for twenty years were suddenly forced to seek work, and for example MS(multiple sclerosis) is no longer a reason to enter/stay in the WAO) .
As stated above, the urgency was gone (or reducing rapidly) but they defended it as necessary nonetheless.

It was not necessary, but choice, just one not very popular- i guess the liberals demanded it (in their quest to tone down the welfare-state) and the leadership of the Christians caved in to their demands (they've gotten used to doing that now).

by koenzel (koen@vanschie.net) on Sun Nov 20th, 2005 at 06:25:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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