The Dutch nine-to-twelve-party system is sometimes hard to understand for foreigners; especially when the small parties come into play. Therefore I’m running a mini-series that treats all eleven parties that stand a decent chance of getting seats in the upcoming elections. We’ll go from largest to smallest.
Today we’ll continue with the SGP.
Whatever else may happen in the 2010 elections, the SGP will win two seats. Not one, not three. Two.
It is the stablest party in the country. So stable, in fact, that I wouldn’t be unduly surprised if it turned out that pollsters calibrate their samples by looking at the SGP voters.
The SGP is also the oldest party in the country. Founded in 1918 by a right-wing, very orthodox protestant group, it entered parliament in 1922 and never left. Initially it represented 2% of the Dutch (3 seats), but in the early nineties it started to slide down and lost a seat in 1994. It temporarily regained the seat in 1998, but only because these elections had very low turnout. SGP voters are very loyal, and they always vote. How many seas that nets their party is up to the others.
The SGP is an orthodox protestant party, and when I say orthodox I mean orthodox. It obviously rejects abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and other libertarian D66 points.
It also rejects TV. In the past party leaders refused to appear on TV, but more recently the party has decided not to walk away from the cameras, although SGP politicians should not actively seek them, either. A short interview is allowed, nowadays. Its voters will never see their leaders on TV, of course, whether they accept or reject the interview.
It does not reject the Internet, but its website is closed on Sundays. Obviously.
It also rejects women in politics. The Bible is very clear on this point, and the SGP sees no reason to go against God’s Word here. Women cannot serve in any representative capacity, whether in the party or in the state.
Now this last point is against the constitution. Therefore, in 2006 government decided to halt the subsidies to the SGP that it would normally qualify for as a political party with seats. In reaction the party now does allow basic membership to women, although they still may not serve in any representative function.
Finally, the SGP is a theocratic party. Its articles of principle contain one sentence that all other protestant parties have forgotten, and that says that government should act to extirpate false gods and idolatry (read: catholicism) and to defeat the Antichrist’s empire (historically the Pope, but modern liberalism might conceivably qualify here).
In other words, in The Netherlands (SGP version) there is no real place for catholics, evangelicals, jews, muslims, buddhists, pastafarians, or non-believers. Not that the party wants to persecute them; it wants to go back to 17th-century-style toleration, where non-reformed can practise their religion as long as they don’t draw too much attention to themselves. Or seek a position in politics or governance.
In 2008 the party moderated these points of view somewhat. Still, party leader Van der Vlies called it a reformulation of old and well-known standpoints, not a retraction or a change.
It will surprise nobody that the SGP qualifies as a witness party.
After being party leader for close to thirty years, as well as longest-sitting member of parliament for about ten of them, Van der Vlies will resign at the end of the current parliamentary period and will be succeeded by the second SGP MP, Van der Staaij. This process will have no influence on the elections.
There are about 150,000 Dutch who will vote SGP no matter what. There are about 9,500,000 Dutch who will not vote SGP no matter what. There will probably be a few thousand votes who hesitate between SGP and either CU or CDA, but there is no meaningful traffic with even the other christian parties.
These 150,000 or so voters are highly concentrated in the Dutch Bible Belt, which runs basically from the southwestern islands of Zeeland to the northeast. The party commonly wins 65% of the vote in one village, and is well-represented in some local councils.
Conceivably the SGP could try to broaden its base and become a general conservative christian party. This would, however, mean diluting its standpoints, and accept TVs, or a more moderate view of other religions, or maybe even women in representative functions.
The next move the SGP makes to broaden its base will be the first.
It is very hard to see where the SGP would come into coalition negotiations. True, it was considered in 2003, but rejected by the VVD.
It might conceivably be drawn into a broad right-wing coalition with CDA, VVD, and PVV, but only if those three parties combined have 74 or 75 seats. Still, the VVD won’t like it for beans.
That’s the full extent of the SGP’s governmental hopes. It’s a distinct improvement over the 1922-2003 period, when its chances were exactly nil.
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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.