Joni Wijhers

The political landscape in the Netherlands is turbulent. During a diplomatic conflict between the Dutch and Turkish governments, the Dutch citizens cast their votes for a new House of Representatives on Wednesday, 15th of March. Even though there were 28 political parties on the voting ballot, the battle was between four political parties, with many both domestically and internationally fearing a swing to the right and a stimulus for the rise of populism. Was the Netherlands strong enough to resist or would the fears be proven justified?

In the early morning of the 16th of March, the Netherlands woke up as a country that slapped populism in the face. The Liberal Party (VVD) stayed the largest party with approximately 33 seats, followed by the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV) with 20 seats. Even though, the PVV became the second largest party, the results are widely considered to be a loss for populism, as – for a long time – the PVV was projected to win the elections. Still, multiple challenges lie ahead for the newly elected representatives: with a political landscape this fragmented – 13 political parties elected in the House of Representatives and probably at least four needed for a majority –, who will put their minds together and form a coalition?

After election day, the House of Representatives appointed ‘’an explorer’’ to explore the coalition options. The explorer has finished her job and was upgraded to the role of an informer: to see if the most obvious coalition is viable. The current talks involve the VVD, CDA, D66 and the Green Party (GroenLinks). Who are the main contenders in these coalition negotiations? Below are short profiles of the main players.

The VVD has been in government since 2010, when it became the largest party. Together with the Christian Democrats (CDA) the VVD formed a minority government with support in parliament from the right-wing PVV. This love triangle did not last long and collapsed in 2012. The VVD again became the largest party in the 2012 election and formed a coalition with their main opponent the Social Democrats (PvdA). The VVD  is a centre-right party, tough on immigration, but without the extremist rhetoric of the PVV. It has struggled with its image in the last years, due integrity scandals coming from the VVD-led Ministry of Security and Justice, leading to the resignation of two Ministers, the State Secretary and the President of the House of Representatives, all aligned with the VVD. However, while its coalition partner the PvdA was decimated, the VVD managed to minimize its losses and retain their position as biggest political party in the Netherlands. The VVD will play the lead role in the coalition negotiations.

Having received a number of blows to their credibility in the last years. During their government cycle, an old case from the past threw a spanner in their works. Some years ago, the State Secretary from the Ministry of Security and Justice worked for the Public Prosecutor. During that time, he was involved in a dubious deal with a drug dealer. The deal on itself was questionable, but the biggest issue lie within ‘the receipt’ of this deal that was unfindable for quite some time. Information on this case was covered-up at the time, but eventually saw the light. This even led to the resignation of two Ministers, the State Secretary and the President of the House of Representatives, who were all aligned with the VVD. The VVD is struggling to overcome this image of a corrupt party with members lacking integrity.

The PVV was established in 2006 and was part of a minority government coalition only once. The PVV likes to call itself ‘a new form of liberalism with strong attention to culture, tradition and morality’. But, by most political observers, the PVV is viewed as a conservative and populist party. The party is critical of the European Union, multicultural society and especially, the Islam. The PVV grew substantially in 2010 and gained 24 seats, yet the success seemed short lived because in the next election cycle the party dropped to 15 seats. However, the party leader, Geert Wilders, has remained a prominent figure nationally and internationally, helped by his habit of making controversial comments. Although this election cycle he was not as visible as usual with a surprisingly quiet campaign, the PVV did manage to bounce back from its losses and rise to 20 seats. The PVV is unlikely to be part of any government coalition, since all major parties excluded the PVV as a future coalition party during the campaign, since it walked away from the minority government in 2012. In that respect, the chances are small that the new Dutch government will be of a populist or extreme right wing nature.

The Christian Democrats (CDA) positions itself in the centre of the political spectrum. The CDA has served in many government coalitions and even provided a substantial part of the Dutch Prime Ministers. The last years the party found itself in dire straits. The 2010 election were disastrous and led to a loss of half their seats: from 41 seats to 21. Even though they lost big time, the CDA joined a minority government with the VVD, supported in parliament by the right-wing PVV which led to very dissatisfied and upset members. After the fall of the minority government, the next elections in 2012 were a reflection of this dissatisfaction, with the CDA’s presence in parliament further slinking to 13 seats: an  historic low. CDA tried to profile itself as a strong and reliable centre party and were – to many – surprisingly successful in the elections gaining 19 seats. The CDA is expected to play a key role in any government coalition.

The Social Liberals (D66) have been in opposition since 2006. It used to position itself more in the left field of the political spectrum but the current election set in motion a move towards the political centre. As an opposition party, the D66 turned out to be quite pragmatic and – on some issues – willing to cooperate with the government. Through this strategy it even implemented some of their crown jewels such as the adoption of a new system for organ donor registration. The D66 highly values themes as education, more direct democracy – like an elected mayor and the use of referenda – and a strong European Union. With 19 seats it is almost essential for almost any government coalition.

GroenLinks is no newcomer to the House of Representatives. It is a progressive party situated on the left of the political spectrum and stands for a greener future and sustainability. Since it was established in 1990 and it has consistently gained around 4-11 seats in the House of Representatives, but has never been part of a Dutch government. This year’s election led them from 4 seats to 14 and they are therefore considered to be one of the major winners. Even though the differences between GroenLinks and the other possible coalition parties are substantial – particularly the CDA and VVD – their prospects for entering the government coalition look bright, as the other main parties have little choice in the matter, having already excluded the PVV from any possible coalition.

Joni Wijhers

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.