Balkenende’s twilight

The past few weeks have not been easy for prime minister and CDA party leader Balkenende. The next weeks promise to be worse.

Balkenende had his fourth government blown up beneath him by the PvdA, and the CDA was generally seen as the culpable party. Although he was reconfirmed as party leader with remarkable speed, he was also critcised for that from day one. Besides, one CDA prominent after another is leaving politics.

Balkenende’s position is getting worse and worse.

Last week the CDA party leadership formally met and re-reconfirmed Balkenende as party leader. The fact that such a re-reconfirmation is necessary at all means that his position is not as secure as the CDA wants people to believe.
(Source: Trouw | NRC | Volkskrant)

Still, even if Balkenende does remain party leader until the elections, what will happen afterwards? If he once again makes the CDA the largest party and succesfully negotiates a coalition, not much.

But PvdA, D66, VVD, and PVV (all serious coalition candidates, in other words) have had enough of him, and his presence might hamper the creation of a new coalition. So the question about his succession is very relevant right now. However, obvious candidate Eurlings has withdrawn.

Therefore the CDA is now looking at another bunch of candidates, most of whom are well known nationally, but never seriously considered for party leader. Verhagen is too damaged by the fall of government, social affairs minister Donner is protestant and more cast for the role of senior advisor, health minister Klink is also protestant, former Maastricht mayor Leers (catholic) is popular even outside CDA circles, but had to resign after a minor financial scandal. No obvious candidates here.
(Source: Trouw)

To make things worse, Balkenende declared that he would only be available for the prime-ministership. In other words, he would not be available as minister under a non-CDA prime minister, nor for leading the CDA in the opposition.

The first to attack him on this was CU leader Rouvoet, who has precious little else to attack the CDA with, bound as his hands are in government. Rouvoet declared that Balkenende’s remarks were improper. After all, the Dutch do not elect their prime minister.
(Source: Algemeen Dagblad | Nederlands Dagblad | Telegraaf | Volkskrant)

The past few days, provincial CDA barons added their voices to the choir of Balkenende-detractors. They, too, feel that Balkenende’s prime-minister remarks are inappropriate, and they’re afraid it might cost the CDA voters. These provincial barons have been weakened already by the lousy results of the local elections, they do not want a repeat performance.
(Source: Telegraaf | Trouw | Algemeen Dagblad)

Today, CDA parliamentary leader Van Geel, who performed pretty decently in the debates around the local elections, announced that he, too, will leave politics. He commented that he’d decided after the 2006 elections that this would be his last term, and it seems that this news is not entirely unexpected in CDA circles. Still, this resignation only deepens the CDA’s misery since Van Geel was quite popular in his native Noord-Brabant, where he more than once saved the CDA from losing even more seats. (Van Geel did not state he would not be available as a minister, though.)
(Source: NRC | Volkskrant | Telegraaf | Nederlands Dagblad)

After this news became known, Schreijer-Pierik, a CDA backbencher (who will not return after the elections) publicly stated that the party leaders have decided on Balkenende too quickly, without leaving room for discussion and debate.

Schreijer-Pierik is popular among farmers, and she fears for the position of farmers if the CDA will no longer be the largest party. (She may be right in that; the CDA is the farmers’ party.) She herself considered former agriculture minister Veerman an excellent candidate. (For farmers, yes. For others, I’m not so sure.)

Still, her main point is that the party leadership was too quick and too authoritarian. Although many CDA members will no doubt share her reservations, she is the first to openly say so. (She can afford to, since she won’t be returning to parliament in any case.) Other parliamentarians (who do want to return) countered her points, stating that Balkenende is still the best leader possible (without naming too many arguments).

“If you’ve worn the same dress for three summers, isn’t it time for something new?” she asked. This is not a simile the party leadership will receive with great gladness.

In any case, she shrinks back from the ultimate conclusion that Balkenende has to go. Instead, she proposes an internal discussion that will culminate in the proper, democratic election of a party leader at the 24 April party congress.
(Source: NRC | Telegraaf | Nederlands Dagblad | Algemeen Dagblad)

Although this would definitely be democratic, it would also mean that the CDA is effectively leaderless for a month and a half during what is shaping up to be one of the bitterest and most exciting election campaigns in years. 2002 was probably more exciting, but other than that I can’t think of a good example.

Balkenende simply cannot function effectively as a pro-tempore leader pending the decision of congress. On the other hand, even CDA members are starting to look critically at his Best-Before date. On the third hand, there is simply no successor waiting in the wings.

The CDA has to decide quickly. All in all I think Balkenende will stay, despite the fact he will become a hindrance in the campaign. Still, the other options are worse.

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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.

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Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Bill Stewart on 16 March 2010 | Permalink

Maybe you want a new dress if you've worn it three summers, but if you've worn the same conservative dark suit and white shirts, all you need to do is clean it regularly, and maybe get a new necktie occasionally. The question is whether the suit still fits or the cloth is wearing out.

2 Posted by Frans on 17 March 2010 | Permalink

Here's a related article in NRC International.

http://www.nrc.nl/international/article2505517.ece/Christian_Democrat_says_Balkenende_must_go