Things are not good for prime minister and CDA party leader Balkenende. Although he still has the official support of the party, rumblings are starting among the rank and file. Besides, a serious successor has made his way to the top.
A while ago I reported that a CDA backbencher expressed her doubts about Balkenende, doubts that were mirrored by the provincial party barons. It’s time for an update.
Meanwhile, local CDA councillors, too, are expressing doubts about their party leader.
(Source: Volkskrant | Trouw)
Little has changed, and that means that Balkenende will lead the CDA into the elections. It’s too late now to switch party leaders, since the CDA’s opponents (all other parties) would be absolutely merciless in their attacks on the vacillating, untrustworthy christian-democrats.
Still, the fact that there’s open discussion about Balkenende’s position is a serious problem, too, and the party leadership is trying to keep all noses pointed in the same direction, as we say in Dutch. It only has intermittent success.
Schreijer-Pirik, the backbencher who dissed Balkenende two weeks ago, has meanwhile declared that sh’s supporting him anyway, no doubt reacting to serious pressure from the CDA bosses. She won’t be returning to parliament in any case, but the party might help her find a nice, comfortable seat on some council, preferably an agricultural one, where she can continue to help her farmer voters.
(Source: Nederlands Dagblad)
Besides, provincial party leaders called upon the rank and file to be careful in their press contacts. The ranks should remain closed, and any criticism should be discussed within the party first.
Then lurid stories from the CDA fraction in parliament started to come out into the open. It turns out that the fractions has serious doubts about Balkenende’s leadership qualities, and that it has sent parliamentary leader Van Geel to the party leadership to express these doubts. As far as anyone knows party leadership has never actually done anything about it.
Balkenende himself denied that there’s any criticism at all; at least, he didn’t encounter any during a closed party meeting in the northern town of Assen. He defended his decision to only become prime minister (in other words, not minister under a PM from another party, nor opposition leader in parliament) by saying that he worded his ambition to make the CDA the largest party in the country. Yaddah yaddah.
CDA party chairman Van Heeswijk meanwhile stated that he doesn’t see anything bad in criticism, since it makes the CDA a stronger party. Besides, it’s a democratic party that allows anyone his or her say.
In other words, most of the party leadership supports Balkenende no matter what, and they’re slowly getting the rank and file in line. Still, the problems have leaked out, and no doubt Balkenende will be mercilessly attacked on this point during the debates in the month before the 9 June elections.
The best solution to the problem seems to be calling for “Balkenende 2.0.” When politicians use outdated Internet terminology, you know that they don’t have any bright ideas any more.
Another aspect is the succession. Suppose Balkenende resigns, now or after an drumming at the polls, who will succeed him? Crown prince Eurlings left politics a while ago, and since then it has been completely unclear who’s the first in line of succession to the party leadership. Not that Balkenende minds; a strong crown prince can be a hindrance to a leader in the autumn of his power, and without a clear alternative it’s less likely that the party will depose him.
However, in the last two weeks or so a clear successor has surfaced: Gerd Leers (catholic), former mayor of the southern city of Maastricht. Leers resigned a month ago because of a minor financial scandal. It turned out he owned a holiday home in Bulgaria, and that when there were financial problems he had written to interested parties on paper with a Maastricht city header. Thereafter the main parties in the Maastricht council, especially the PvdA, forced him to resign.
Leers remains very popular in Maastricht, though, and in the local elections the PvdA was beaten soundly. Pundits assume that its treatment of Leers had something to do with that.
In any case, Leers is not a typical CDA politician. He was a convincing big-city mayor who succesfully handled big-city problems such as drugs, Since Maastricht is very close to both the Belgian and the German border, plenty of non-Dutch come into town to purchase their weed. This gives order problems, and Leers has always treated them as such, instead of insisting on the abolition of the soft drugs toleration policy, as national CDA leaders did.
Anway, this is a serious challenge to Balkenende, and it has been treated as such. Leers initially announced he wanted to return to politics, and everybody assumed that meant becoming CDA party leader or at the very least taking a prominent place on the CDA party list in the elections. However, quickly after he announced he wouldn’t be a candidate for parliament.
(Source: Algemeen Dagblad)
This could be a problem. If the CDA enters the opposition and Balkenende resigns, Leers is not eligible for parliament since he is not on the party list. (He can always become a minister, or even prime minister, of course. That doesn’t require membership of parliament.)
Still, despite these procedural problems, I kind of think he would be able to work with PvdA party leader Cohen, who also was mayor of a big city (Amsterdam) until recently, and also objected to the soft-drugs policies of national government. Not that these policies are the only thing that matters, but both have a big-city outlook that could mesh well if they’re able to get along personally. (I have no data that they can, but no data that they can’t, either. So let’s assume they can.)
Of course, the CDA is a countryside party. More than any other party it gets its votes from the villages and small towns. Thus Leers may not represent the average CDA member very well with his big-city perspective.
On the other hand, there’s just no other name floated around for Balkenende’s succession. The CDA has to choose between several unpalatable options.
<— New Peil.nl poll | Small fry, 30 March —>
This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.