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.
- A police officer of Moroccan descent was arrested for supplying sensitive information to Moroccan criminals — family or something. He worked at the unit devoted to protecting VIPs, such as the King, but also threatened politicians — notably Wilders.
Everyone involved, including Wilders, reacted very calmly, even before it became clear that the information the officer leaked was not specifically about the people he protected: such officers turn out to have access to pretty much any police information since there’s no saying what they might need. The officer in question turned out to look for quite different information.
Rutte, who as prime minister is responsible for Wilders’s security, obviously doesn’t want this to become politicised. It seems Wilders agrees with him: he said he continues to have trust in his guards. It’s hard for him to say anything else and still have motivated guards.
Still, Wilders is not going to campaign anywhere in person right now as long as it’s not entirely clear his security is being guaranteed. Not that that hurts a lot: Wilders mostly campaigns via Twitter anyway.
- The background of this problem is the continuing problems at the Ministry of Security and Justice — and those problems are very much owned by the VVD, at whose insistence this “super-ministry” was created. It is becoming fairly hard for Rutte to talk about the security issue when the ongoing problems at Security and Justice serve as argumentsfor his detractors. Wilders will obviously profit from that, but will the CDA as well? Up until two months ago security was a VVD/PVV issue, but whether it will stay so is hard to say.
- Henk Krol, the 50Plus party leader, had a totally lousy week, mostly due to the old-age pensions, his party’s main talking point. 50Plus wants the retirement age to be dropped back to 65, and also wants pensions to fully rise with the cost of living. Turns out they can’t have both even under their own plans.
Krol initially announced that 50Plus was dropping the second point in order to keep the retirement age at 65, but then party founder and chairman Nagel stepped in and announced that it was possible after all to have the pension cake and eat it, too.
Also, there are questions about Krol’s past as editor of the Gay Krant (Gay Journal; back in the day Krol, who is gay, helped bring about gay marriage — in fact, his fame from that time caused 50Plus to ask him to become their leader). It is pretty much certain that he did not pay — wait for it! — his employees’ public pension payments, which are required by law.
In any case, 50Plus is now once more seen as the chaotic party it really is. After the 2012 elections Krol failed to keep his fraction, consisting only of him and one other person, together, leading to a split-off. How is he going to deal with seven or eight other 50Plus MPs?
Not good less than three weeks before the elections. The last polls see 50Plus falling (though my average doesn’t reflect that yet).
- Speaking of the polls, there’s still no meaningful movement apart from the 50Plus drop, which showed only in polls from this weekend. Several pollsters reminded us that three weeks before the 2012 elections the situation was about the same. Then the prime-minister debate came, and Samsom (PvdA) became the runaway leader on the left. That’s the same debate as the one being held tonight.
- Last Friday saw the first big radio debate, with nine party leaders, except for Wilders, who abstained. Rutte talked mostly about him being prime minister. This is standard tactics, because popular political wisdom holds that having the prime minister as your party leader gives a party an extra boost of 5-10 seats.
Otherwise there were no big fireworks. SP leader Roemer held his ground rather better than expected (popular wisdom says he’s the wrong leader for the SP, and he has just these elections to prove popular wisdom wrong), and the other party leaders didn’t make mistakes and kept themselves in the race.
The most interesting question was about coalition preferences. GL leader Klaver unhesitatingly opted for the SP, and so, rather surprisingly, did 50Plus’s Krol. CU and SGP wanted each other plus the CDA: a christian government (and never mind the complete lack of a majority). Rutte wanted a coalition with CDA and D66, but those two parties refused to name a preference. That’s standard tactics for centre parties: after the elections they have to be able to go left or right, as the situation dictates.
- It was reported that even conservative Catholics are now considering a vote for orthodox protestant SGP — the party that until not too many years ago called Catholicism a false religion and idolatry. Nowadays, though, Islam has taken the place of Catholicism in SGP thinking
The SGP is still the most conservative christian party. Still no women on the party list, and their website is still closed on Sundays. Although neither point is particularly important to Catholics, it seems that the common ground of being conservative christians is more important than the Protestant/Catholic divide.
And who knows, it might net the SGP its fourth seat.
- DENK, the party for Turkish Dutch (and Moroccan Dutch to a lesser extent), is becoming a sort of anti-PVV by attacking white Dutch. Recently party leader Kuzu said that (white) doctors stopped treatment of Turkish or other migrants sooner than for white patients. Although it’s not unlikely that patients without proficiency in Dutch will have communication problems and hence slightly more general problems, the accusation seems overrated to the point where even a few Turkish-Dutch doctors attacked Kuzu.
A separate party for non-white migrants seems like a good idea. An anti-PVV does not. Still, this approach might conceivably work for DENK’s potential voters.
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.
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.
<— State of the Race
| Wilders: Fortuyn killed by muslim —>
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.
If you like this blog, why not donate a little bit of money to help me pay my bills?
(Add your own)