The Dutch nine-to-twelve-party system is sometimes hard to understand for foreigners; especially when the small parties come into play. Therefore, just like in 2010, I’m running a mini-series that treats all eleven parties that stand a decent chance of winning seats. We’ll go from smallest to largest.
Today we’ll continue with green and left GL.
GL is a green, left-wing party that’s in a profound identity crisis. Originally a merger party, it stood clearly on the left wing for much of its existence. Recently, however, the party leadership tried to move it closer to the centre, stating that GL should become a progressive-liberal party not unlike D66. The problem, of course, is that D66 is already occupying that position in the political landscape. Therefore the move is backfiring.
GL remains a witness party first and foremost. It is unable to see why the other parties won’t see that it is right, and this air of superiority is by far the most annoying party feature. It was involved in the 2010 coalition negotiations, and one report says that instead of negotiating, then-leader Halsema mainly tried to convince the other parties (purple VVD, PvdA, and D66) that her programme was better than theirs. This is fine in a witness party, but unhelpful when it comes to negotiating a coalition.
The 2010 profile has some more details on GL’s earlier history.
GL is losing its traditional electorate without winning new voters elsewhere. The main reasons are Kunduz and the Spring Agreement of April.
In 2011 GL supported the sending of Dutch troops to the Afghan province of Kunduz. Rutte had gone shopping with the opposition after Wilders refused to support the Afghan mission, and ended up adding D66, the CU, and GL to his VVD+CDA coalition. This combination became known as the Kunduz coalition.
The problem is that there’s a strong pacifist current in GL — one of the parties GL was created from was the pacifist-socialist party, and that’s still noticeable. The pacifists weren’t too happy with the party leadership’s action.
In April, after the fall of the Rutte government, something had to be done about the austerity budget. D66, CU, and GL took the initiative for reaching out to VVD and CDA, and measures were passed. Thus the Kunduz coalition was reborn and the Spring Agreement passed.
Still, GL did not prosper. In fact, it fell quite a bit in the polls from 8 to 5 seats. It seems its voters aren’t happy and are deserting in droves. This goes further than just Kunduz and the Spring Agreements. The voters don’t like the liberal centrist course party leadership set, and they certainly don’t like the logical conclusion: participating in a centre-right coalition.
Quite a few friends of mine are traditional GL voters, but all of them are hesitating this time — something they’ve never done before. One worded it best: “I always voted Green Left for the left bit, and not for the green bit.” And it’s the left bit that’s the problem right now, while party after party pays at least some attention to the green bits, so it is not a unique GL selling point any more.
In addition, GL has a leadership problem. Universally applauded party leader Femke Halsema stepped down in late 2010, to be succeeded by Jolande Sap. Sap hasn’t convinced. She led the Kunduz and Spring negotiations and is thus very much implicated in the new GL strategy.
She appeared to be a shoe-in for heading the party list and thus being reaffirmed as leader, but MP Tofik Dibi, of Moroccan descent, issued a challenge. Although Sap was re-elected by a comfortable margin, GL didn’t handle this crisis very well, with Dibi’ candidacy first being disallowed by a party committee before being allowed.
Since then reports of internal trouble have surfaced, and Sap has been accused of bad, overbearing leadership. Others say that everything is peachy and Dibi, especially, cooperates fully with Sap. You decide which story to believe.
GL’s outlook is lousy. Although the coalition game could have favoured it even more than in 2010, it seems likely that GL simply won’t have the seats to be relevant. SP+PvdA+D66+CDA is enough for a centre-left government. A left-wing government reinforced by the CU would need GL, but its chances are slight, especially because D66 will prefer centre-left over left.
As to Sap, her head will roll after the elections.
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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.