The CDA continues to be in deep crisis. Recommendations for a partial reversal of the party course have leaked out, and a whole slew of party prominents, including Verhagen, have said they’re not available as party leader. Finally, the Limburg chapter threatens rebellion.
As usual, the CDA became introspective after the hideous 2010 election losses (41 to 21 seats), and hardly eighteen months later there is a report that says the party is steering too much to the hard right and should correct itself leftward, to the political centre it belongs in. Less anti-Muslim stuff, more attention for social and ecological issues. The report even touches on the possibility of making the mortgage tax deductability a subject of discussion. Back in 2010 then-leader Balkenende declared the retention of this deductability a breakpoint, much to the surprise of other party prominents.
This message was reinforced because the CDA fraction in parliament opposed the government plan to allow a when speed of 130 kph on most highways instead of the current 120. This maximum speed increase is a typical right-wing toy, and the CDA shows it can’t automatically be counted on to support such right-wing hobbies.
On 21 January a special party congress will debate the report and make decisions — or rather, suggest possibilities for trends for future decision-making, or something. The CDA remains vague.
What’s happening here is clear: a moderate group of party leaders feels that the disastrous losses in 2012 and in the polls since then were caused by too much identification with Wilders’s PVV and its standpoints. The CDA should correct leftward, even though then future government collaboration with hated social-democratic rival PvdA becomes all-but a certainty.
Simultaneously, the party is looking for a political leader. A vacancy has existed ever since Balkenende resigned after the 2010 elections, and currently a triumvirate of economics minister and vice-prime-minister Verhagen, parliamentary leader Van Haersma Buma and party chairwoman Peetoom has been responsible for general political matters. That won’t work in the long run, and the CDA is quite correct in looking for a new leader.
That new leader is not going to be Verhagen. A week ago he made it known he will not be in the race for the leadership. Since he was the favourite until now, this has caused a lot of speculation, and many prominent CDA politicians were asked whether they were interested.
Meanwhile a surprising amount of them have said they won’t become the new leader, including popular finance minister De Jager. Also, it became known that Verhagen’s ascent to the leadership was vetoed by party chairwoman Peetoom, and that Verhagen probably brought out the news himself in order to avoid otherwise painful revelations.
Just about the only party prominent who has not rejected the leadership is parliamentary leader Van Haersma Buma. In fact, he wasn’t even mentioned by most reports. To me that sounds as if his chances are good. One is not supposed to openly court the party leadership, after all.
Update: That was fast. Former CDA spin doctor Jack de Vries proposed Van Haersma Buma as party leader on TV. That doesn't mean the case is closed, and lots of discussion will follow, but it increases Buma's chances.
Others say the ordinary CDA members should elect their new party leader, as PvdA and VVD have (occasionally) done before. Such an election might be divisive instead of uniting, because the left and right wings might have their own candidates, and in case of a close race this division might spell serious trouble for the party.
In fact, it’s already in some trouble. A few right-wing catholic CDA prominents from the southern province of Limburg have threatened to secede and form their own catholic, conservative party, which would be related to the CDA as CSU and CDU are in Germany.
Limburg is the problem right now. It is the home province of Verhagen and Eurlings, but also of Geert Wilders, and it was there that the CDA lost disastrous amounts of votes to the PVV, to the extent that the PVV became the largest party. In order to win back these voters, Limburg CDA members say, the party should continue on its right-wing course and not veer leftward.
This may be good for Limburg, but it’s bad for the north, where predominantly protestant CDA voters are somewhat less conservative, and where the party has to maintain its traditional balance between left and right.
Still, for now I see the threat of secession as a political move primarly, aimed at getting more right-wing catholic Limburg influence on the party. If the party congress partly recants the proposed shift to the left, we won’t hear anything about secession any more. On the other hand, it might annoy the moderates.
Stay tuned and take lots of popcorn. This is going to be one hell of a fight.
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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.
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