Where we stand now

In the past six weeks or so I haven’t been as active on this blog as I’d planned, but in the end this is a personal side project that I either have time for or don’t. Fortunately the past weeks were also relatively quiet on the political front. The local elections have run their course, and the parties are now gearing up for the general elections.

The campaign will start in two weeks or so, because late April/early May features a few Dutch-only holidays: Queen’s Day on 30 April, Remembrance Day on 4 May, and Liberation Day on 5 May. (The latter two both celebrate our liberation from the nazis in 1945). Besides, there’s a two-week school holiday right now, and many voters are abroad on some beach or so. Little sense in starting up your campaign now.

Local elections

Anyway, the local negotiations we have been following have mostly ended:

Programmes and party lists

Meanwhile all parties have held their congresses, and the party programmes and lists have been published. I’m waiting for the newspapers to run a detailed comparison of party programmes; they always do so and it will greatly facilitate my job of communicating them to you.

As to the party lists, it’s common that the party leadership creates a draft list and lets the congress fiddle with it a bit, raising this candidate a few places and dropping the other candidate a few places. This year it’s about what we expect, one minor incident in most parties.

Only animal-rights party PvdD has had a true row. In the last four years they had two seats in parliament, and everybody expected the same two candidates to appear at the top of their list.

However, it turns out that party leader Thieme and second candidate Ouwehand have entered into an argument. Seems Thieme doesn’t like Ouwehand too much. Therefore the party leadership did not nominate Ouwehand for the second spot, and this has caused quite an uproar in the ranks.

It seems Ouwehand has quite a bit of support among the rank and file, and the party central of Noord-Holland threatened not to conduct a campaign at all. This is important because Noord-Holland (which includes Amsterdam) is the province with the highest relative vote for the PvdD, and a lack of campaigning here can truly hurt the party.

Anyway, party leadership relented and Ouwehand was granted the number two spot anyway. Still, this episode has hurt the PvdD. Where until now it had a rock-solid score of two seats in all polls, it has dropped back to one in some.

Individual parties

Finally, a quick look at where the individual parties stand right now. See also the polls.

PvdA

The Cohen Effect has ended; the PvdA is now between 30 and 33 seats in the polls and has been there for weeks. Still, I confidently expect the PvdA to attract more voters when the campaign truly starts. The question is whether they’ll top 40 seats; right now I don’t think so, but anything may happen during the campaign.

New party leader Cohen has nicely remained visible in the press, and meanwhile just about everybody knows about him. That’s good, especially for a new man. Still, he’s been in the national eye for years now due to his mayorship of Amsterdam, and due to him being mentioned as prime minister in 2003 (and to a lesser extent in 2006).

Thus the PvdA can enter the elections with confidence. The social-democrats have a fair chance of becoming the largest party and deciding which coalition is going to run the country for the next four years.

VVD

Currently the VVD is the second-largest party in the polls with just above 30 seats. This is not because of any positive virtue of the liberals, but more because they are available on the right while being neither CDA nor Wilders.

The question is whether they’ll retain that position until the elections. The VVD seems to be minded to make this election a struggle between itself and the PvdA, and the social-democrats seem to agree with them. Thus both hope to squeeze the CDA dry.

Still, the big question for VVD strategists is whether this is actually going to work. The VVD, more than the other large parties, is dependent on the negative vote: people will vote VVD because it’s less distasteful than the alternatives on the right. If the CDA revitalises itself, the VVD is in trouble.

On the other hand, many Wilders voters give the VVD as their second choice, and quite a few of them may actually switch when they’re in the voting booth.

So right now it’s a toss-up for the liberals. They’ll end third in any case, but will they become the second party of the country and thus bigger than the christian-democrats? I just don’t know yet, and neither does anyone else.

CDA

The CDA has stabilised just below 30 seats, which is a whole lot better than the free-fall the christian-democrats were in just after the fall of government. The question is now whether they’ll swing up a bit more to pass at least the VVD, and possibly also the PvdA.

The CDA still has plenty of vitality left, and has staged improbable comebacks before. Besides, it’s the natural choice for conservative, older voters that are frightened of both left and right wing. So anything could happen here.

But the CDA’s categoric refusal to exclude the PVV might hinder it: many CDA voters don’t want anything to do with Wilders. I expect the CDA to distance itself from Wilders during the campaign.

Party leader and prime minister Balkenende has now become a drag on the party. His personal popularity has been shot through the heart, and the only reason the CDA maintains him is because the alternatives are worse, and because they need a sacrificial lamb in case the party ends second or even third.

No doubt the CDA spin doctors will try some damage control, but the CDA’s outlook hasn’t been as bleak since 1994. But, again, this could change quite rapidly.

PVV

Wilders is in trouble. Where he easily scored between 25 and 30 seats in the weeks just before and after the fall of government, his inevitable slide down has started, and it doesn’t seem to have ended yet. Right now he’s in the 15-18 range.

His complete refusal to enter normal coalition negotiations in Almere and Den Haag has caused him serious trouble. Most voters want to vote for a party that actually has a chance of ending up in government. When Wilders turned on his Islamic headscarves ban, which he declared non-negotiable initially, this only deepened his trouble. Not only was he not interested in government, he also turned out the be unreliable.

I expect the PVV to lose a few more seats in the polls; seats that will quite likely end up with the VVD. Whatever else will be happening, these are not Wilders’s elections, although he will make a big brouhaha about his seat gain. After all, he only has nine in current parliament, and he will win some. But not enough.

D66

The Democrats are in similar trouble. Party leader Pechtold made a name by attacking Wilders, but now that Wilders is sliding down D66 is, too.

Where they scored around 20 seats around the fall of government, they’ve been losing seats steadily to the PvdA, and are now around 12-14. Worse, it’s not certain whether they’ll slide even more.

Initially I thought they might attract some votes from the right block; mainly left-wing liberals or non-christian CDA voters who couldn’t stomach Wilders. It seems that this is not happening: D66 draws its votes from the moderate left, as it always does.

Still, they have a slight chance of improving their score. In the end, both PvdA and CDA were implicated in the very impopular Balkenende IV-government, and D66 is the most obvious choice for centrist voters who’ve become exasperated with the two large parties.

Much depends on whether party leader Pechtold can succesfully distinguish himself from Cohen, Balkenende, and VVD leader Rutte.

SP

The SP is also in trouble. From the outset it has been clear that they’ll lose most of their current 25 seats in parliament. They just grew too large in the last election, and haven’t distinguished themselves in the opposition. Besides, charismatic party leader Marijnissen resigned, to be succeeded by Kant, who was not a success. She did the right thing by resigning just after the local elections and making way for a new man: Roemer.

Still, Roemer is relatively unknown, and Cohen will draw many left-wing voters who’re inclined to give the PvdA one more chance.

The SP’s best strategy would be not to sink below 9 seats (their 2002 and 2003 score), and to ready themselves for the next elections. If the PvdA becomes the largest party, they’ll create a coalition with either CDA or VVD, and that leaves ample amounts of room for opposition from the left. If Roemer does a good job there, the SP may re-enter the picture in the next elections — which might come considerably sooner than the official four years.

GL

The green-lefts are in a similar situation. They were around 12-14 seats for a while, but, like the VVD, this was mostly caused by them being available on the left while being neither PvdA nor SP. Now that the PvdA is strongly coming back, GL will feel the heat and lose seats in the polls.

Still, the question is whether they’ll win any seats relative to their current seven. That’s not impossible, and it would be only the third time GL wins seats since its first election participation in 1989.

Coalition-wise, GL’s chances are much better, however. They are the natural first choice for reinforcement when either centre-left PvdA+CDA+D66 or Purple PvdA+VVD+D66 doesn’t win a majority.

So it seems GL will do moderately well in the polls, but can conceivably do much better in the coalition negotiations.

CU

The CU has consistently been the only government party which did not lose seats, and even gained one or two. But they’re falling back in the polls a little bit to their current six seats.

Right now I don’t quite know what to make of the CU’s chances. I’d expected them to flourish when the CDA did bad, because christian voters would vote with their hearts and not strategically.

That’s not happening to a meaningful degree, however. Much depends on how CDA leader Balkenende will position himself. If he plays the christian card, CU leader Rouvoet has a tough challenge ahead of him; if Balkenende plays the moderate-right-wing card without dwelling too much on the CDA’s christian character, Rouvoet can more easily attack him.

Still, it seems the CU has conquered itself a space in the Dutch political system that goes beyond yet another witness party. And 2010 just might be the year when they break through to catholic voters in the south, who have until now eschewed the originally orthodox-protestant party.

SGP

The SGP will win two seats.

Recently the SGP has been the centre of a curious conflict about women. As I said before, the party holds that women are subservient to men, and should not stand for political office. In the past years this position has been challenged by women’s rights groups. The SGP was required to allow women to become members, and has lost its government subsidy.

Recently the SGP has also been ordered to allow women on their party list. Although this might make sense from a women’s rights point of view, in all other respects it’s a pointless victory because by all accounts SGP women agree with their menfolk on their position in the world.

So right now the SGP must allow women on their list, but they will not actually do so. Allowing it is not the same as actually doing it, after all. Besides, it seems there are no woman candidates.

There was a bit of discussion in the press about this, with some taking the side of the women’s right groups, others of the SGP.

The true story behind the story, however, is about Islamic immigrants, the more orthodox of which agree with the SGP on this particular topic. And the Dutch in general object to this orthodox-Islamic behaviour. Women should have equal rights to men, but since that’s not the case within the SGP either, it forms a useful testing ground for pro-women rulings.

Anyway, all this makes for nice headlines but won’t have the slightest effect on the SGP’s polling. Two seats it is, two seats it will remain.

PvdD

I already treated the PvdD earlier in this entry.

ToN

ToN, Rita Verdonk’s vehicle, is in trouble. It has been polling zero seats for the last few weeks, and I think we can say goodbye to Rita Verdonk.

Repeat after me: Bye bye, Rita! [wave languidly]

Conclusion

Right now everything points to voters fleeing to the three large parties. PvdA, CDA, and VVD have a combined 96 seats in current parliament, and in the polls they have 93. I confidently expect this number to increase by about ten or so.

The question becomes which of the smaller parties will be able to hold out against this large-party onslaught. Wilders and D66 are doing relatively well; they’ll likely both end above ten seats, which is not bad in a contraction year where the large parties do well.

SP and GL can forget about their breakthrough, and so can the CU. Witness parties are usually exempt of these rules, so the SGP will remain stable. However, the PvdD is in a bit of self-made trouble.

Incidentally, if ToN does not win one seat, and no new parties turn up, the 2010 elections may see exactly the same ten parties in parliament as the 2006 elections did. This is actually a rare occurrence; the previous time elections returned exactly the same set of parties was in 1952. In all other elections at least one new party entered parliament, or at least one old party disappeared.

So in the end, despite all the talk of modern times and floating voters, these elections may be much more conservative than people think.

<— The UK elections | Thoughts on the British elections and coalition(!) negotiations —>

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 Bryan on 7 May 2010 | Permalink

NIS suggested recently that Paul Witteman is supportive of Job Cohen, by reporting
“Cohen recently gave a fairly disastrous interview to TV program NOVA. After the interview, Witteman, one of the presenters of public broadcaster VARA's talk show Pauw&Witteman, gave Cohen a boost. He sent him an encouraging text message recommending: Just be yourself!”

In the US, much of the political programming can be decidedly partisan, and not as helpful as it could be. Some programs try to have guests from both parties, but if the host is partisan, the bias is still obvious. Is Dutch programming more neutral with so many parties and was Paul Witteman previously or still is considered to be a non-partisan political journalist?

2 Posted by ppk on 7 May 2010 | Permalink

The VARA is the socialist broadcast corporation; tightly aligned with the PvdA. Similarly, NCRV (protestant) and KRO (catholic) are aligned with the CDA, and the EO (evangelical) more-or-less with the CU. Thus it's quite likely that Witteman gives Cohen the benefit of the doubt.

Still, I don't think these broadcasters are extremely partisan; they have to appeal to an audience that's broader than party supporters only.

I missed the interview because I was abroad at that moment, so I can't say anything useful about it.

3 Posted by Sander Aarts on 8 May 2010 | Permalink

A seats > 0 condition would be in place in your coalition game, as it still features ToN, although they'll add 0 seats to a coalition according to current polls ;)