Know your coalitions — Purple

In order to properly prepare you for what’s going to happen after the elections it’s time to talk about coalitions. Dutch parties and voters have been thinking about them from the start, and they are everyone’s number 2 priority (number 1 being “How do I get as many votes as possible?” or “Which party shall I vote for?”)

Today we continue with Purple.

Purple is an unusual coalition in that it occurred only once before, and that it is composed of PvdA and VVD, who normally behave as polar opposites in the political spectrum. In 1994 the Purple coalition of PvdA, VVD, and D66 took power, only to relinquish it after the 2002 Fortuyn elections.

It won the intervening 1998 elections, and that is something that’s very rare in Dutch politics. The only other post-war instance of a sitting coalition winning elections was 1956.

In the nineties Purple was popular for two reasons:

  1. It kept the christian-democrats out of power. The CDA and its predecessors had been in power continually since 1918 (in other words, a few years longer than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), and people were tired of the christians.
  2. It was in sync with the times and with victorious liberalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain. (Note that this point required the PvdA to essentially forget about social-democracy and support a VVD-inspired economic platform. It has yet to recover from this move to the right.)

Although PvdA and VVD are required to make Purple a success, the proud owner of the concept is D66.

After the 1994 elections the parties had to choose between centre-left, centre-right, and Purple, all of which had a majority. (The forbidden PvdA+CDA+VVD coalition was, obviously, never considered.) D66 was the only party that was necessary for all three coalitions, and essentially the Democrats took this unique chance to reform the Dutch political system by excluding the CDA. Dutch politics still have to recover.

A similar situation may occur after the upcoming elections. Although D66 is going down in the polls, it is still required for a centre-left coalition, and it might use its power to instead force a new Purple coalition on the country.

Not that the country would mind. People are once more getting sick and tired of the christians; and let’s not forget that Balkenende IV was the most christian government since the fall of the catholic KVP in the early seventies.

So the anti-christian mood of 1994 is back. However, the liberal economic mood isn’t, and that’s the gravest problem a renewed Purple coalition would encounter.

The question is whether PvdA and VVD could come to an agreement that’s more or less acceptable to both. Last time the PvdA embraced VVD-style economics, while the VVD embraced PvdA-style silence about immigration. This caused the rise of the SP on the left, and the LPF, later the PVV, on the right.

Will the PvdA again submit itself to the VVD’s economic programme? Or will the VVD allow more state interference and forget about economic liberalism? Will the problems of the previous Purple coalition be repeated, with SP and PVV attacking the Purple parties on their out flanks and winning hugely come the next elections?

It’s just too soon to tell. Much depends on whether the PvdA becomes the largest party, whether the CDA behaves arrogantly, as in “we pick who’s going to rule with us,” whether D66 insists on Purple and occupies the balance of power, and whether PvdA and VVD can find a compromise that both can live with.

And even if all that happens, GL is probably necessary for a majority and has to be propitiated, too.

On the plus side, the VVD doesn’t have to be that afraid of a CDA confined to the opposition: back in the Purple years the CDA had absolutely no clue what it was doing, and was in the throes of a leadership fight that lasted for years. That last factor is likely to come into play again if the CDA does not become the largest party, and I have serious doubts about the CDA’s viability as an opposition party.

This is important. Back in 1994 the VVD insisted on its own economic programme of liberalisation, not only because that was in sync with the times, but also because it was the most vulnerable Purple party, since its main competitor CDA was in the opposition. Thus it had to show its voters that it wasn’t bowing to the left, or those voters might desert the VVD for the CDA.

The CDA’s track record of lousy opposition means that the VVD has to be less afraid this time. It can afford to move more to the centre, increasing the likelihood of a coalition agreement the PvdA can live with, too.

Thus, the road to Purple is not easy, but all in all it remains the second-most-likely coalition in my opinion, simply because all other options are worse.

All other options except for centre-left, that is. We’ll take a look at that coalition in the next installment.

<— New polls | Quick update — Den Haag —>

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 12 April 2010 | Permalink

Based on what is printed on the internet, a purple coalition is going to be very tough. If Dutch voters look at party manifestos and forget about “labeling”, (not that there is anything wrong with using stereotyping to achieve satire), based on the recently released agenda from VVD of no new taxes; no welfare benefits for foreigners for the first 10 years and no repeal of mortgage deductibility, on paper PvdA and VVD doesn’t appear possible. Cohen with CDA in tow, or CDA and VVD appear more likely if you look at the agendas, unless I’m missing something.

2 Posted by Bryan on 13 April 2010 | Permalink

Another thought about why the color”purple” appears remote. The essence of VVD is “economic liberalism”, so Purple only results, if PvdA is willing to give up on its economic program, Wim Kok did, Cohen might be willing to, but it has to be doubtful party leadership would allow it, if PvdA is the largest party. As for the” anti-christian mood”, hope your wrong about that, clearly the emergence of PVV is the result of an anti-muslim mood, but neither mood is consistent with Holland’s history of toleration and multiculturalism.

3 Posted by Abi Sutherland on 13 April 2010 | Permalink


Don't read too much into "anti-christian mood". It's simply about whether an explicitly Christian party is popular at the polls, or whether the voters prefer parties that express their central ethos in some other terms. It's simply like saying "anti-conservative mood" or "anti-green mood".

It doesn't mean there is ANY kind of bias or suspicion against Christians, overt or covert, public or private, in Dutch culture as a whole. There really, really isn't.

In this it is entirely different, not simply in magnitude but also in essential nature, from the anti-Islamic sentiment that the PVV has been feeding and benefitting from.

The two phrases may be shaped the same, but they honestly do not have the same context or essential meaning.

4 Posted by Bryan on 13 April 2010 | Permalink

Good to know mood is not to be confused with public debate and christian is CDA/CU.