Mixed fortunes for governing parties in Dutch regional polls

The Dutch provincial elections, held on 18 March, have resulted in a striking fragmentation of the Dutch political landscape.

The results of the provincial elections have national importance: the 566 newly-elected members of the twelve provinces (known as states-provincial) will elect the 75 members of the Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer). This indirect election will take place on 26 May 2015.

Liberals and centre-right emerge as winners

The conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which leads the current government under Mark Rutte (pictured), emerged as the winner. It took 15.8 per cent of the vote, and is likely to win 13 seats in the Senate (down from 16). The VVD was closely followed by the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), with 14.7 per cent of the vote and 12 seats.

However, the big winner was the social liberal Democrats 66 (D66), nearly doubling its numbers from the 2011 election and becoming the third biggest party in the Senate. The party won 12.3 per cent of the vote and is set to take ten seats – the party’s best result in 25 years.


Labour’s losses

The centre-left Labour Party (PvdA), which is in coalition with the VVD, went from 17.3 per cent of the vote in 2011 to just ten per cent this time. It will see its Senate representation slashed from 14 to seven seats. Once one of the ‘big three’ parties (with the VVD and CDA), and the second largest party in 2011, the PvdA has the dubious honour of failing to win in any of the country’s 393 municipalities. The more radical left Socialist Party (SP) has now become the biggest party on the left.

The election results also proved disappointing for the Eurosceptic Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders (pictured). The party, with its populist anti-Islam and anti-immigration rhetoric, has gained significant traction in the past few years. However, this year many of its supporters stayed home and the party won only 10.8 per cent of the vote, compared to 12.4 per cent in 2011. It may lose two of its ten seats in the Senate.

Total voter turnout in the election was 47 per cent, a significant drop from four years ago, when 56 percent voted.

Consequences for ruling government

While the current VVD/PvdA government maintains a majority, albeit slim, in the House of Representatives, it has previously been forced to work in the Senate with a ‘coalition of the willing’. The D66, along with two religious parties (ChristenUnie and SGP) helped to ensure that legislation was passed.

Even this five-party coalition will not command a majority after 26 May, as the political picture fragments. Additional support will have to be gained from other parties.

The big question is: which parties are willing to lend support, and what do they want in return?

Aside from the increasingly complex situation in the Senate, the losses for the PvdA may result in an internal conflict about the party’s leadership and direction, jeopardising the future of the government.

The Prime Minister, the VVD’s Mark Rutte, is known for his optimism, and has stated his determination to complete the government’s four-year term, which ends in 2017. He wants to get the job done, and has extended an invitation to all parties to join him.

Words  Annabel van der Meijden (Burson-Marsteller The Hague)
Photos  (c) European Union 2015; Wikimedia Commons – Dutchgamer (Yusuf Babayusuf)

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