The coalition problem

Political custom dictates that just after the elections all party leaders deplore the fact that the forming of a stable coalition is so very very difficult. Usually that means that they can’t (easily) form the coalition of their choice, but in general they are able to find a reasonable option within two to three weeks (although the formal negotiations take longer).

Right wing

The situation is not very different this year. Still, I’m a bit disappointed by the 76 total seats for the right block. Frankly, I’d hoped for a bit more so that Wilders would have been forced to negotiate seriously or suffer a severe loss of face. But now both Rutte and Wilders are right when they say that, even when negotiations between VVD, PVV, and CDA succeed, the coalition would have a narrow basis indeed.

Nonetheless Wilders is calling for a right-wing coalition. That’s perfectly understandable: it’s the only one that would include him. He has even declared that his breakpoint of no increase in the pension age is not a breakpoint after all: he doesn’t want this opinion to stand in the way of succesful negotiations.
(Source: Trouw)

Cohen was quick to call this move cheating: according to the PvdA leader Wilders voters have now voted for a party that breaks its word whenever that’s opportune. Cohen also wonders how reliable Wilders is, if his given wordd doesn’t mean much.
(Source: Volkskrant)

Far more important is that a right-wing coalition is popular among VVD voters. According to a poll 57% of them support VVD+PVV+CDA, and Rutte will have to at least appear ready to listen to them. Problem is that CDA voters aren’t ready for a Wilders at all: less than a third wants this coalition. (I wonder if this is one of the reasons for one third of the CDA voters to stay home).
(Source: Telegraaf | Volkskrant)

Long-time readers of this blog will know I seriously doubt whether Wilders really truly wants to sit in a coalition and take governmental responsibility. Right now he has no choice but to appear to be ready to negotiate: he got in serious problems because the PVV didn’t negotiate at all in Almere and Den Haag, where it became the first and second party, respectively, in the local elections. The general consensus, even among Wilders supporters, was that the PVV had given up far too soon.

Still, I believe that Wilders is secretly relieved that the majority of a right-wing coalition is so exceedingly narrow. It’ll give not only him, but also the CDA a way out.

That’s a pity for the country. I believe it would be best served by a government that includes Wilders, so that either everybody sees that he’s not fit for government, or he has to compromise so much that his well-known talking points, most notably his proposed stop on Islamic immigration, are watered down too much and his voters start looking for another, even more radical option.

Either way, the PVV would be badly served by sitting in government.


Thus the country might be headed for a purple-green VVD+PvdA+GL+D66 coalition after all. It’s the only serious option right now that has explicit support from at least some of the prospective coalition partners. D66 has already announced it wants this coalition, and GL won’t make too much of a problem. However, the opinions of VVD and PvdA aren’t known yet.

VVD and PvdA will certainly take quite a while to negotiate, partly because their standpoints are genuinely different, partly because they mostly waged war against each other during the campaign, and it would be odd if they decided to cooperate within a week.

Trouw published a useful overview of disagreements between the four Purple-green parties. The big danger in the negotiations is that the VVD will have to cooperate with three left-wing parties, and that these three might form a block against it; not necessarily during the negotiations, but certainly later on, when the Rutte government has been formed.

Fortunately, although the three left-wing parties are occasionally aligned against the VVD, at other points the division is between VVD and D66 on the one hand and PvdA and GL on the other, or even between the PvdA and the other three. This will actually make the coalition more stable: the rift in government will not always be along exactly the same lines. VVD and PvdA will form the opposite poles, but GL and D66 will retain the balance between them; supporting now one, then the other.

Still, the last time the country had a coalition of more than three parties was back in 1971 (if one discounts the curious and complex Den Uyl minority government). Three of those parties, however, later formed the CDA, and they were quite used to cooperating, having done it since 1888. Thus some political scientists really count them as one party. If one argues that way, the country has never had a four-party government before. The Rutte government would be the first.

If a right-wing coalition fails, the four Purple-green parties know there is no alternative, though, and having the hot breath of impatient and volatile voters in their neck will certainly help them come to an agreement.

The big, overarching problem for the Purple-green parties is that they together form a centrist coalition, which can be freely attacked both from the right (Wilders) or the left (SP). In theory even a centrist attack by the CDA is possible, but precedent suggests that the CDA is an extremely lousy opposition party that will singularly fail to capitalise on its position.

Still, the twin threats of SP and PVV will loom large in the heads of the Purple-green party leaders. It’s hard to say whether that will make the coalition more or less stable. On the one hand the Purple-green leaders want to postpone elections until after the economic recession, on the other they (especially VVD and PvdA) have more incentive to break with government on a clear ideological point, so that they can appease the radical wing of their block, winning voters back from SP and PVV.

All in all interesting times are ahead.

<— Results after 98% | Small fry, 10 June —>

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 Mantini on 10 June 2010 | Permalink

What of the fact that Paars-plus doesn't have a majority in the Eerste Kamer? Will that be a significant obstacle?

Also, I was surprised by how often the NOS broadcasters mentioned the "national coalition" possibility (PvdA-CDA-VVD) during their broadcast...

2 Posted by Raphael on 10 June 2010 | Permalink

What do you think will all this mean for the thing that caused the whole election in the first place- that is, your deployment in Afghanistan?

3 Posted by ppk on 10 June 2010 | Permalink

Senate: don't know. Nobody knows. It has never happened before.

Forbidden PvdA+CDA+VVD coalition: most Dutch political journalists understand very little of the Dutch political system, unfortunately.

Afghanistan: we're gone. During the campaign only the CDA mumbled something about international stuff, but that was only so they could point at Balkenende's photo-ops with foreign leaders. The rest of the parties, as well as 99.99% of the Dutch, were not interested.

4 Posted by Gerben on 11 June 2010 | Permalink

Even Rutte mentioned the National Coalition more prominently than Purple-Green in the press conference after his visit to the queen. One reasoning for this might be that the recession justifies this. And apparently he really doesn't like the purple option.

5 Posted by Richard Gadsden on 11 June 2010 | Permalink

With CDA now the fourth party, could that make the National / forbidden coalition more acceptable?

Normally, it's banned because it's the three largest parties, but now it isn't.

Another thought - long-term, the Netherlands suffers if SP and PVV are both excluded from government permanently.

If PVV can't be brought into government, could SP? SP-PvdA-GL-D66-CDA has a comfortable majority; indeed the majority is probably excessive. Of course, this would be attacked hard by VVD and PVV from the right, but only CDA would really suffer, and they surely can't fall much further?

6 Posted by CTerry on 11 June 2010 | Permalink

I am not Dutch, but I am a Political Scientist, specialising in European Politics, so I'll try my best to field this one. The point with the forbidden coalition is that all the traditionally acceptable choices for normal centrist voters are in it, besides D66, which is a sort of odd-one out, due to its secularism. With all three parties in it is likely that the electorate would polarise to the extremes in objection to the government.

As for the left-wing coalition you suggest, I don't really see SP and the CDA in coalition together in the short-term. Getting them to work out a coalition deal (with the PvdA) in 2006 was impossible enough. You have thrown in two more parties to the mix. What's more the CDA REALLY likes to be in the centre of a cabinet, to say that that cabinet would squeeze them onto the fringe right would be an understatement, they'd be completely crowded out by the left. Its not going to happen. The CDA is not quite THAT desperate to attain power.

7 Posted by Thomas on 11 June 2010 | Permalink

I do not think, from a political science perspective, that the parties are THAT worried about fanning so-called "extremism" (< honestly, just opposition to neoliberalism, be it in economics or immigration). The Germans didn't care about this in 1966-69 and 2005-9, and they are far more worried about political extremism than the Dutch. The main parties in the Netherlands oppose a "National coalition" probably more so because it is bad for their own electoral prospects. The CDA would rather compete with the PvdA and VVD than with PVV, but you can only compete to a limited extent with coalition partners. But the point is not that the SP would go back to 25 seats and PVV to 35 at the following elections rather than the likelihood of CDA+VVD+PvdA, already at a record low of 82 combined seats, would go below 70, and, namely, the CDA, from its own prospective of having its lowest return ever, would go below 20. Rather than a natural "party of government", it would come to resemble the Walloon Christian Democrats, a third to fifth party never to lead a government again.

8 Posted by CTerry on 14 June 2010 | Permalink

Oh I wasn't necessarily suggesting that they were worried about extremism per say. In fact I agree that they are mostly worried about their own political prospects. I also suspect that the resulting parliament from the following election would make this coalition formation look like a walk in the park.