Party profile — VVD

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 VVD.

History and party profile

Full name
Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie
Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy
Party leader
Mark Rutte, since 2006
Current seats
about 20-25
My estimate
about 25-30

The VVD is the moderate right-wing party. It stands clearly to the right of the CDA, but not a whole lot, and when it comes to ethical matters it’s decidedly more liberal than the christian-democrats.

The CDA can always decide at leisure whether to rule with the left or with the right, and more often than not it opts for the VVD. Thus, despite being smaller than the PvdA, the VVD sits in government more often than the social-democrats.

From a power-political point of view this is easy to understand: the CDA prefers a coalition with a partner that’s decidedly smaller than itself instead of a partner that is roughly equal in size.

Still, the VVD has problems that are roughly similar to the PvdA. Like the social-democrats, they have veered too much to the centre in the Purple era (1994-2002), when PvdA, VVD, and D66 ruled without the CDA.

The VVD forced the PvdA to bend rightward with regard to social-economic policies, but in turn was forced by the PvdA to bend leftward when it comes to immigration. Essentially the VVD did not talk about immigration at all for ten years, even though a moderate stance against too much immigration would suit the party profile well.

That’s basically the root cause of Geert Wilders, and of Pim Fortuyn before him. The VVD passed up the chance to make immigration an issue in a moderate way; therefore after tension had grown too high others made it a radical issue.

As a result the VVD has suffered most from the populists. Geert Wilders was originally a VVD member, as was Rita Verdonk.

In fact, party leader Mark Rutte came to power after a nail-biter of an internal election against Verdonk. He represents the moderate, centrist wing of the party, while Verdonk represented the hard-right wing, especially when it came to immigration. Although when Verdonk left the party to found her own Rutte’s position became safe from internal dangers, in the end he remains too much of a centrist to please the right-wing VVD voters, especially the anti-immigration ones who have an alternative in Wilders (and Verdonk).

Electoral position

The VVD always loses seats after participation in government, and it wins them after a spell in the opposition. This cycle the VVD has never been truly convincing in the opposition, but it is the only right-wing party that is neither CDA nor Wilders. Thus its basic outlook is positive.

The prime target for the VVD are the about 10 to 15 seats’ worth of voters that could vote either CDA or VVD, and this time around its chances are reasonably good. The CDA has been damaged by the crisis, and besides, a true right-wing voter does not like cooperation with the PvdA.

As to Wilders, he remains a competitor. Some seats might shift to the right, but the VVD will likely get them back with interest from the CDA. The VVD could try to tack rightward with a tough stand on immigration (it’s partly already doing so), but it just isn’t going to win the topic back from Wilders.

The left-wing parties will try to implicate the VVD with Wilders. “Vote VVD, get Wilders for free.” If that attack line succeeds, some VVD voters are sure to abandon the right wing and opt for D66 instead. Thus the VVD can’t bend rightward too far, either.

The Democrats always compete somewhat with the VVD, despite being part of the left wing. D66 is the only other truly liberal party, and for a VVD voter fed up with his party but unwilling to vote either christian or Wilders, D66 is the only option.

Still, it seems the VVD will more than make up for seats it loses to D66 and Wilders by seats it will win from the CDA. As long as the party presents a clear profile somewhere between D66 and Wilders, attacks the CDA somewhat (but not too much; think of the coalition!), it will win seats more or less automatically.

Potential coalitions

Right-wing voters longingly dream of the good old days when CDA and VVD held a majority by themselves and usually governed together. These good old days ended in 1994, and Lubbers got tired of the liberals five years earlier, but that is conveniently ignored.

If CDA and VVD decide to form a coalition once more they need a third party. But which one? Wilders? Or something normal, such as D66? It will be a VVD electoral competitor anyway.

It’s unclear whether the liberals want to rule with Wilders. On the one hand it’s always good to be in a coalition with your competitiors; if they are in the opposition they have an easy time attacking you while your hands are bound in government.

On the other hand, Wilders is moving well to the left, and there’s always the aura of vulgarity around him. So on balance the VVD prefers not to rule with the PVV if there’s a viable alternative.

Still, if Wilders scores really well in the elections it might be unsafe to ignore him. Ignoring fringe parties is fine, but once they get beyond the fringiness it’s Dutch custom to welcome them, allow them to participate, and slowly encapsulate them in the system. The VVD would have a larger role than most parties in this process; Wilders’s entire existence is the VVD’s fault, after all.

If the Wilders option fails, CDA and VVD pretty automatically arrive at D66. And that’s a good solution to a thorny problem. In fact, this coalition is the most likely one overall.

Still, the VVD needs an alternative. Negotiations between CDA and VVD might genuinely fail, but even if they don’t the VVD must show it’s not dependent on the christian-democrats.

That alternative is the renewal of the Purple coalition with D66 and PvdA, possibly with GL added for more seats. The centrist wing might like it; the right wing won’t. With Rutte as leader the centrist wing leads the party, though. On the other hand, the CDA is the VVD’s most serious competitor, and therefore both parties want each other in government instead of safely in the opposition.

A normal centre-right coalition is probably best for the party. Still, the VVD must at least pretend to be interested in Purple so that it’s not taken for granted by the CDA.

<— Small fry; 28 February | Debate 1 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.

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