Small fry, week of 20/2

In preparation for tonight’s first big TV debate, here are a few things that happened over the week. Also, a quick look forward to tonight's debate, and a remark on new elections in 2018.

Small fry

The debate

Tonight we have the first of the major TV debates, with Roemer (SP), Klaver (GL), Asscher (PvdA), Pechtold (D66), and Buma (CDA) attending. As reported earlier, Rutte (VVD) and Wilders (PVV) bowed out. The big question is: was that a good or a bad idea?

Everyone agrees the debate may be crucial on the left. Three weeks before the elections there is no clear leader on the left yet. If one of the parties were to become significantly larger than the others they might trigger a prime-minister race with the VVD, which would help that party as well as the VVD. Back in 2012 it was this debate that propelled the PvdA upward and made it by far the largest left-wing party.

Roemer, Klaver, and Asscher will fight for the left-wing leadership. On the whole Klaver is the slight favourite, though Roemer did better than expected in Friday’s radio debate, and Asscher’s PvdA remains the default option for many, especially older, left-wing voters. So nothing’s certain yet.

But even without a prime-minister race there are still plenty of left-wing voters who haven’t made their choice yet, and this debate could help there.

D66’s Pechtold has bowed out of the left-wing race. That is deliberate. Pechtold has worked for years to distance D66 somewhat from the left in order to pick up moderate VVD and CDA voters who feel their parties move too much to the right. This strategy might succeed in the upcoming elections, so Pechtold isn’t about to change course now.

CDA leader Buma may be in the toughest spot of all. On the plus side, he’s the only true right-winger in the debate, and that might score him brownie points with right-wing watchers. On the other hand, CDA strategy dictates attacks on VVD and PVV, and that is much harder when they’re not around to be attacked. If Buma succeeds, then Rutte and Wilders miscalculated in staying away. If Buma fails, Rutte and Wilders are vindicated.

New elections

Finally, one point that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere: the likelihood of quick new elections — say, next year. If, as the current polls indicate, a four- or even five-party coalition has to be formed after the elections, chances are that the new government will fall rather quickly, and that necessitates new elections.

Voters are just as capable as politicians of reaching this conclusion. That is the main reason why parties on the left and the right hope to break out. Voters, not wanting even more elections, will cast a strategic vote for the largest party in their block. This happened in 2012 (and required the winners to form a coalition with one another), but will it happen in 2017 as well? So far there’s no indication that it will.

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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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