Negotiations to watch — Rotterdam

It’s time to return to the local coalition negotiations in Rotterdam, Almere, and Den Haag. All three are unusual in that a large right-wing party (Leefbaar Rotterdam and twice Wilders’s PVV) challenges the might of the local PvdA.

Besides, monitoring these negotiations will be a useful practice run for June and July, when this blog will mainly discuss the national coalition negotiations.

Today we start with Rotterdam.

14 seats
14 seats
4 seats
4 seats
3 seats
3 seats
2 seats
1 seat

Brief recap: In Rotterdam the struggle is between the PvdA, which has sat in local government from the 1920s on except for 2002-6, and Leefbaar Rotterdam, a party founded by Pim Fortuyn that did not share in the general crumbling of Fortuyn’s empire after his death. After the 2002 elections LR formed a coalition with VVD and CDA, and when it became the second party in 2006 it moved to the opposition.

In the recent local elections, both PvdA and LR won 14 seats, and the difference in votes was only about 650 on a turned-out electorate of about 250,000. According to the normal rules the PvdA could now take the initiative for coalition negotiations.

LR leader Pastors immediately said he’d love to talk to the PvdA about a broad coalition, but the PvdA rejected that offer.

In addition, there were problems with the elections themselves. First of all there is the slight difference between the two competitors. Secondly, and more importantly, several polling places reported irregularities; most notably several people in one voting booth, which is absolutely forbidden. These irregularities mostly occurred in neighbourhoods with many foreign-born voters, and were partly explained by men helping their (illiterate or non-Dutch-speaking) wives or parents.

LR had clearly prepared for this eventuality and had sent observers with cameras to several such polling places. It clamoured loudly when the reports of irregularities came in, and with some justice. Helping someone else to vote is just not allowed under Dutch law, period.

Thus the demand for a recount. At first the PvdA didn’t feel like it at all. Mayor Aboutaleb (PvdA; incidentally, the first North-Africa-born mayor of a large European city) and local PvdA leader Van Nieuwenhoven saw no need.

Then, however, former mayors Peper (PvdA) and Opstelten (VVD) joined the chorus, and the local VVD, CDA, and GL as well.
(Source: Trouw)

This made Aboutaleb switch; he decided that the transparency of the democratic process demanded a recount. It was decided to completely recount every single vote.
(Source: Trouw | Telegraaf | NRC)

In the gap between the decision and the actual recount it became known that LR had been recruiting proxy votes, something that’s even more hideously forbidden than two people in a voting booth. A leaked-out email stated that if all LR candidates would get proxies from friends and family, one candidate would arrange for people to pick up the proxies and vote — for LR, obviously.
(Source: Volkskrant)

A Dutch voter may cast a maximum of two proxy votes, but political parties may have absolutely nothing to do with the process beyond pointing out the existence of the proxy system. Angling for proxies was very, very naughty of LR.

Thus the dishonours were about evenly divided when the recount took place. No changes in the number of seats were discovered, although the PvdA increased its lead from 650 to 750 votes.
(Source: Volkskrant | Parool | Nederlands Dagblad | Telegraaf | Trouw)

Still, the PvdA, especially, had lost some authority. Its initial reaction to anything beyond normal, LR-excluding coalition negotiations was a surprised disbelief. It should be remembered that in the large cities the PvdA holds the position that the CDA takes nationally: the eternal in-power party that basically decides who’s allowed to enter the coalition and who is excluded.

It started to catch some flak. Being the largest is all well and good, but being arrogant, too, makes for a much more complicated situation.

The employers’ organisation VNO-NCW, never a PvdA friend, made it known that PvdA and LR should both participate in a coalition, which would be the broadest possible one with 28 out of 45 seats.
(Source: Telegraaf)

Other parties joined the chorus. VVD and D66, especially, wanted the appointment of an informer who’d impartially lead coalition negotiations and would explicitly include LR in those negotiations. Initially the PvdA didn’t really see the need, but after a while it made a U-turn and accepted the proposal. However, the suggestion by VVD and D66 that PvdA and LR would start talking to each other was rejected.
(Source: Telegraaf)

The PvdA reiterated that it would not participate in a city-wide coalition with LR. Mutual distrust is too large, and the ideas about a multicultural society are too far apart to allow for proper cooperation.

Nonetheless, the PvdA did see possibilities in the city’s sub-councils. Its proposal is to form a PvdA+LR coalition in one or more neighbourhoods, which can serve as a test case, as well as lessening mutural distrust.
(Source: NRC | Telegraaf | Trouw)

Even after the recount there was some confusion about the result, and some called for a completely new election. However, it has been decided that that will not be necessary. Despite occasional glitches the result of the election accurately mirrors the feeling of the electorate. (Besides, the possible PvdA gain by the voting booth irregularities is now offset by the possible LR gain by the proxy irregularities.)
(Source: Volkskrant)

In any case the PvdA still has the formal initiative in the coalition negotiations, but its position has been gravely weakened by the other parties, who have generally been mildly supportive of LR. The negotiations certainly will not be simple; now that the other parties have shown their teeth they (or rather, those of them the PvdA will select) cannot in good faith agree on a PvdA-led coalition in a matter of days.

Concluding, the Rotterdam situation is not quite in an impasse, but the behaviour of especially PvdA, and to a lesser degree LR, remains a serious obstacle to a “big coalition.” It’s not entirely clear what’s going to happen next. An informer will probably be appointed, and it will be interesting to see if he or she comes from the PvdA, some other party, or is neutral. Right now my bet is on the VVD.

Update: I was right. Former minister Winsemius (VVD) has been tipped as Rotterdam informer.
(Source: Binnenlands Bestuur)

The Rotterdam negotiations will take a while.

There also is a national angle to this: the PvdA shows itself as an old-fashioned, arrogant Party of Power, and that will help its detractors, notably Wilders. Still, Wilders has not said a peep about the Rotterdam situation. He’s got more pressing matters to occupy him in Den Haag and Almere. Still, eventually he might start a round of shouting.

It will also be interesting to see whether LR will advise its supporters to vote PVV in the national elections, just as Wilders advised his Rotterdam supporters to vote LR. On balance I think LR will not do so; they want to remain independent of Wilders, and not be affected by his fortune in national politics.

<— Article: The Antithesis | Party profile — CU —>

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.


Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Eric Meyer on 18 March 2010 | Permalink

Just a quick comment: it would probably be very helpful to foreigners new to the site if you occasionally linked "former" and "informer" to section 7.1 of "The Rules of the Game", or at least followed them with a parenthetical "definition" link to that section. The terms imply, at least to an American, very different (and just barely context-appropriate) concepts than are meant, and it's not immediately obvious that one should go elsewhere to learn more.

2 Posted by ppk on 18 March 2010 | Permalink

Yes, that's probably true. I am aware that "informer" sounds weird in English, but I find "informator" even weirder - and ugly besides.

Added link.

3 Posted by Abi Sutherland on 18 March 2010 | Permalink

While we're requesting links, could you link the party names in the poll sidebar to their entries in the blog? It came up as a wish on Making Light, and I think it would be handy.

4 Posted by ppk on 18 March 2010 | Permalink


Please remind again later. I'm sure to forget the links when I add the last three party profiles.

5 Posted by Abi Sutherland on 18 March 2010 | Permalink

Will do. And thank you again for doing this.

6 Posted by Malcolm on 27 March 2010 | Permalink

'Former' and 'informer' don't get my vote as useful translations; I'd suggest sticking with 'informateur' and 'formateur', as there's just no equivalent.

I note wikipedia goes this route, i.e.