The Almere formation

Curiously, right now the major Dutch newspapers, except for De Telegraaf, are all but ignoring the single most important story in Dutch politics right now: the Almere formation. An update is in order.

Brief recap: Wilders participated in only two local elections because he wanted to vet his candidates thoroughly, which meant fewer candidates, hence fewer elections. He chose Almere and Den Haag, and became the second party in Den Haag and the first in Almere.

Thus the PVV has to take the initiative in the Almere local government formations, and it’s doing a thoroughly bad job so far. I suspect that this is deliberate: the PVV has absolutely no interest in carefully negotiating a compromise with other parties, and lots to win by walking away from the negotiations, provided it can blame the other parties, especially the PvdA.

Thus the image of the poor set-upon “real people” party that’s constantly snubbed by the entrenched political parties would be reinforced, and the PVV would win even more seats in the upcoming national elections.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the Almere situation, which is genuinely complex, even without Wilders’s histrionics.

The ideal Almere situation

PVV
9 seats
PvdA
8 seats
VVD
7 seats
LA
3 seats
D66
3 seats
GL
3 seats
SP
2 seats
CDA
2 seats
CU
1 seat
ToN
1 seat

If Wilders were acting in good faith he (or his local henchman) would be hard at work creating a majority coalition in the Almere council. The participation of the PvdA would be useful, but one can imagine that the PVV doesn’t want to invite its largest enemy (at least, according to the PVV definition) into government. That’s fine; such things occasionally happen.

Thus the PVV would be hard at work wooing third-largest VVD, and in fact there’s a fair chance that this will succeed. The VVD has never excluded Wilders, and might react favourably to a good-faith PVV attempt at creating a coalition.

But even together, PVV and VVD would have only 16 seats. They need four more. The problem is that the fourth-largest party has only three seats. Thus, PVV and VVD need two extra parties in order to gain a majority.

Personally I believe that including CDA and local party Leefbaar Almere in the coalition would have been the PVV’s best bet. The parties of the left (PvdA, D66, GL, and SP) will not want to cooperate with their nemesis; the CU is uncertain, and ideologically related ToN unreliable — its single council member will likely be ridiculously incompetent and totally untrustworthy.

Current situation

Thus Wilders’s strategy ought to be clear. Point is, right now he’s doing everything in his power to make negotiations impossible.

  1. The PVV retains its “unnegotiable” standpoints of no headscarves in public buildings, and forming something called “city commandos” to maintain order. None of the other parties want anything to do with those ideas.
    (Source: Telegraaf)
  2. The Leefbaar Almere leader has said that “discrimination runs through the PVV’s programme like a brown thread.” Saying this of a red thread is a common expression in Dutch, but the colour change calls up nazi (brownshirts!) overtones. The PVV demands apologies from LA, which have been refused. Until further notice LA will not be allowed to participate in negotiations.
    (Source: Telegraaf | Volkskrant | Almere Vandaag)
  3. Today, news broke that because of Wilders’s intransigency, PvdA, D66, GL, and SP have rejected the PVV’s (mostly formal) overtures. Banning Islamic headdresses is legally impossible, and the city commandos idea is not acceptable.
    (Source: Telegraaf)
  4. CU minister Huizinga said that a cooperation between PVV and CU is extremely unlikely. True, she’s talking about the national situation, and not about Almere, but still this makes participation of the lone CU council member in a PVV-led Almere coalition unlikelier.
    (Source: Telegraaf)
PVV
9 seats
PvdA
8 seats
VVD
7 seats
LA
3 seats
D66
3 seats
GL
3 seats
SP
2 seats
CDA
2 seats
CU
1 seat
ToN
1 seat

Thus, the PVV has estranged a majority of the Almere council. Only VVD and CDA have not registered any formal problems, although it is unlikely they will accept the PVV’s extreme standpoints. Even if they did, the three parties combined hold 18 of the 39 seats, two too few. Even adding the unreliable ToN member brings the coalition to only 19 seats, still one too few.

In other words, the negotiations are certain to fail, and this fact will become apparent in the next few days. Make no mistake: this is the PVV’s doing, and it’s doing it for clearly defined national election reasons.

Assigning the blame

Still, the fact that the PVV is clearly to blame does not necessarily mean that it will be assigned the blame.

Wilders voters will believe anything; thus Wilders can easily tell them that the parties of the left made negotiations impossible.

Left-wing voters will not believe anything Wilders says, and will remain opposed to him.

What’s really crucial here is what the normal right-wing voters, who’d normally choose CDA or VVD, think. It’s here, and only here, that Wilders can gather additional votes. If he can convince enough moderate right-wing voters that those evil leftist parties are to blame, he can win another few seats from CDA and VVD.

On balance, I do not think that this will happen. Moderate right-wing voters are interested in keeping the country governable. They will definitely not like a party that breaks off coalition negotiations on a whim. I highly doubt that the Almere histrionics will win Wilders any more votes. It might even lose him some.

Even worse, this dynamic will lessen Wilders’s chances of participating in national government. Although a right-wing majority of CDA, VVD, and PVV remains possible, an Almere fiasco will make CDA and VVD wary of trusting Wilders. If the Almere negotiations explode, the tremors will be heard in the national negotiations three months from now.

Wilders’s only chance would be to assign the blame to the left-wing parties in such a way that moderate right-wing voters will believe him. There’s a chance he pulls that off, I guess, but he’d need the help of the Almere VVD and CDA politicians — who’d know that helping to spread that story would mean their parties will lose votes to Wilders.

So the conclusion must be that the PVV remains stuck in its anti-establishmentarianism (is that a word? now it is). In the end the PVV remains a party that can only thrive by taking on the role of outcast, and by refusing to deal with other parties.

Wilders is a major nuisance and will remain so for the time being, but his chances of actually changing the country has just lessened significantly. Of course his fanatical voters won’t care; they’ll believe anything Wilders says. But anyone even a tiny bit more moderate than that will scratch his head and reconsider.

<— Party profile — SP | Housekeeping notes —>

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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