By Jack de Vries; member of the board of Hill+Knowlton Strategies in the Netherlands and the Public Affairs Practice Lead
On 15 March 2017 the elections of the Dutch “Second Chamber” (the Dutch lower house) of Parliament were held. With >95% of the votes counted the outcome has dramatically changed the political playing field in the country with over half of the current members of Parliament being replaced. The outcome marks a victory of the center vs. polarization, of democracy over populism and last but not least, the polls finally had it right.
This morning The Netherlands woke up to a new political landscape. The 150 new seats in the “Second Chamber” will be made up of 13 different political parties. The traditionally large parties: CDA (Christian Conservative Party), PvdA (Labour) and VVD (Liberal), have each discovered that the era of traditional constituencies has passed. The PvdA suffers the most devastating defeat in their entire history, losing 30 seats leaving them with just 9. The CDA made gains from their historic low of 13 seats and increased their seats to 19. Even though the VVD remained the largest party, they lost 8 of their 41 seats. The formation of a new coalition government will be a difficult task. Nobody questions the necessity of a core coalition between VVD, CDA and D66 – with a combined 71 seats – but this leaves a question as to which party will join them in coalition to form the majority (75 seats).
Yesterday, Prime-Minister Rutte (VVD) declared that populism in the Netherlands had been stopped; the sense of relief that came from the PVV (Rightwing Populist Party) not securing the victory that had been feared, is widespread. International interest in the Dutch election reached unprecedented levels this year following the election of President Trump and the unexpected Brexit referendum result. Europe wondered if populism would also triumph in the Netherlands and if this would be a prediction for the upcoming election in France and Germany. These concern have now partly subsided, although, the PVV – with its anti EU viewpoints, increased their 15 seats from 2012 to 20 seats in 2017, and have become the second largest party in the Netherlands, they won less than had been feared. However, add the seats of the PVV and the 5 seats won by DENK and Forum voor Democratie, two new parties that enter the Parliament for the first time, comprises of one sixth of the Dutch parliament. A new cabinet will have to find answers on topics that dominated the campaign. What is an effective integration policy? How do we prevent a societal divide? Where do we stand on the EU? How do we organize the healthcare system to protect the quality of life for elderly people? Four of the eight topics discussed in the final debate were connected, refugee policy, integration, Islam and security. The economy is growing and focus shifts towards immaterial themes, which a new coalition will have to answer. Otherwise the fragmentation of Dutch society will continue.
Therefore, many are hoping for adding the clear winner of the election, Jesse Klaver’s GroenLinks (the Green Leftwing Party), to the governing coalition. He led an inspiring campaign and succeeded in motivating young people to vote. In the Netherlands the young voters didn’t make the mistake that was made in the United Kingdom and the United States, thinking the results will be all right, staying home and protesting afterwards. The young people contributed to curbing the populist vote. They chose unity, sustainability and optimism.
However, in general, these young people aren’t personally affected by the societal problems. They aren’t the ones threatened by the Polish migrant worker. They aren’t the ones waiting for social housing and feeling cheated by a refugee family placed in one of those houses. It’s the challenge for the new government to connect with these young voters. It’s too bad that the SP (Socialist Party) vocally denied a coalition with the VVD (liberal party). The SP should have seen the opportunity to be the voice of their constituency as part of government policy.
The campaigning is now over. Parties now have to decide whether they are willing to cooperate and compromise. That will take time and diligence. With no rash decisions being made that the constituents and society don’t fully understand. It might take some considerable time to form the coalition, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The election created enough questions that require some deep thought.
The coalition building process starts today with the appointment of a scout (a senior politician of the VVD) who is to identify the gaps and the bridges. The expectations are that the process will be a difficult and lengthy one that may set new records (currently: 208 days). It may be months before we see the new government’s policies for the coming 4 years.
Overview of the outcome of the election 2012 vs 2017.