Party profile — D66

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 centrist D66.


Full name
Democraten '66
Democrats '66
Party leader
Alexander Pechtold, since 2006
In parliament since
Left — so far
Catch-all party
Current seats

D66 was founded in 1966 to change the Dutch political landscape. Although few formal changes have taken place, D66 introduced the concept of a Purple coalition with PvdA and VVD in 1994, and Dutch politics haven’t found their equilibrium ever since. That counts as a change.

After being part of government from 1994 to 2002, and again 2003 to 2006, the party performed an incredible shrinking act, eventually ending up at 3 seats in 2006. A spell in the opposition did wonders: it grew to 10 in 2010 and is expected to grow to roughly 15 in a few weeks.

This is in fact a general rule: D66 does badly after being in government, and quite well after being in the opposition. It’s supposed to be the reasonable alternative to the other centre parties, but that is best appreciated if it’s not responsible for government policy.

The 2010 profile contains more information about D66’s history and natural electorate.

Right shift?

One of the biggest questions for the Democrats is where they’re going to place themselves in the Dutch political spectrum. Historically, there were two schools of thought: those who believe D66 belongs on the right wing of the left block, and those who believe it is a true centre party, able to rule with the right as well as with the left.

This year it’s clear that D66 voters, at least, belong more on the right than on the left. Recent research shows a 69-17 majority of D66 voters preferring Rutte above Roemer as prime minister, and voters also go right with questions about the budget deficit and such. Party leader Pechtold is largely catering to these voters by positioning D66 somewhat away from the SP and closer to the VVD.

This has electoral motives: true liberals who’re not happy with the VVD’s flirtation with Wilders might jump on the Democratic ship, while there are far less socialists who’d do so — even if the SP weren’t on a winning streak.

The question is whether D66 will remove itself from the left block altogether and become a true centre party. Right now we can’t answer that. The only thing that’s certain is that D66 is currently not behaving as part and parcel of the left block.


D66’s outlook is fairly good. It’ll likely win seats; possibly as much as 5 or 6. The only danger is the prime-minister race that’s currently brewing: D66 is in extra danger here because it could lose voters to both the left and the right. If it weathers this crisis (and right now it seems it will) it’ll be in a decent position on 13th of September.

The coalition game will be tricky this time around. D66 will immediately be confronted with the biggest question: will it form a coalition with the SP? D66 is necessary for any centre-left coalition, just as the SP is. But do the Democrats want that?

Roemer recently made some anti-European remarks, and Pechtold was the first to criticise him for that. That points to a widening rift. On the other hand, rifts are supposed to widen just before the elections, only to shrink drastically just after.

D66’s problem is that there is no real alternative to a centre-left coalition. Neither the Kunduz coalition (VVD+CDA+D66+CU+GL) nor a workable Purple variant is likely to win a majority in parliament, so that the Democrats may be in a position of having to make the best of a lousy hand.

<— Party profile — GL | Party profile — SP —>

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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