Our expatriate Dutch correspondent H. Numan sent us an email today with an overview of the current state of political affairs in the Netherlands:
A very difficult election ahead.
We all look forward to seeing Geert Wilders becoming prime minister. Regretfully, that isn’t likely to happen. Not even when the PVV becomes the biggest party Allow me to me explain:
The Netherlands always has had coalition governments. No single party is big enough to form a majority government. The parliament holds 150 seats. For a majority government one needs at least 76 seats. It won’t be strong majority government with just 76 seats, though.
However, there is another factor that is usually left out of the calculation. The Netherlands is a monarchy. Normally the Queen is purely head of state and not much more.
But during elections the monarch has a special privilege: she is the one who will decide who will become informateur and later formateur. The monarch, nobody else, decide this. She does not have to explain herself why she choose a particular person. Just a very general statement will suffice.
The job of the informateur is to gather information, and present a list of likely coalition governments. Usually, but not always, the informateur becomes later on the formateur. The job of the formateur is to actually form a cabinet. Almost always the formateur will become prime minister.
The usual procedure is to choose the informateur from the biggest party. If the election is a clear one, no big deal. But more often than not the election results aren’t that clear. Suppose the Labor (PvdA) Christian Democrats (CDA) and Conservatives (VVD) are pretty much the same in size, it can to be tough to form a government. Especially if they all have conflicting non negotiable items on their agenda. It’s not unusual for negotiations to last over 6 months.
And now the real power of the monarch comes into play. If she prefers, say, a socialist government, she will appoint a socialist informateur. This has happened in the past under our previous queen Juliana. The PvdA came in second in the elections. It looked like a Christian Democrat-Conservative government was in the making. However, the Queen gave the job to Joop Den Uyl (PvdA) who was able to form a Socialist-Christian Democrat government.
All the queen had to say was that she thought it most likely Den Uyl would form a government.
This queen doesn’t like Wilders one little bit. Or the PVV for that matter. She made this — indirectly and not so indirectly — publicly known on several occasions.
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A week ago she invited 50 members of parliament for a nice cuppa tea at the palace. Just for some informal chitchat. What is discussed is confidential. Parliamentarians are not supposed to divulge what’s going on. But one did. Boekestijn (VVD) spilled the beans. Her Majesty talked about several subjects, one of them being to be very careful with new parties. Especially parties that cause damage to ‘social cohesion’.
Two days later Mr. Boekestijn resigned his position as member of parliament for the VVD. Completely voluntarily. (Want to buy a bridge?)
This royal tea party hasn’t taken place over a decade. All of a sudden it was revived. One can only wonder why.
Supposing the PVV can cross this hurdle, it isn’t in the government by a long shot. Because a coalition must be formed. And that won’t be easy.
The CDA is not a problem, provided they remain larger than the PVV. If the PVV gets bigger than the CDA they won’t play ball. They don’t have to be picky, as everybody is willing to join the CDA. The CDA controls the outcome of the coming elections no matter what.
The PvdA is desperate to remain in government. They have to, if only to save what little face they have left. So the PvdA will be amendable to any demand made by the CDA.
Likewise, the Socialist Party (ex-Maoists) and the Green Left party (GL) (ex communists) are getting desperate. They haven’t been in any government so far, and lower party cadre is getting tired. During municipal elections recently the Green Party won several seats in various cities. But they can’t fill those seats because their candidates declined to take them.
Femke Halsema (GL) made statements she will not be shy of government responsibility this time. She has to. It cost the GL dearly when they left the negotiations very early last time.
Do it again, and she might as well open a classic car dealer ship. Femke loves antique extremely polluting cars very much; she’s the proud owner of a Mercedes Diesel from the 70’s. No filters, the real McCoy.
Another player is D66. A kind of ‘what do you want this time’ party. It swells and it shrinks with the seasons. Last election they lost big time, just 3 seats left. But they are the most ferocious opponent of Wilders and that gives them about +20 seats in the polls. D66 announced no matter what, they won’t work with the PVV.
So, what’s left? The VVD. The party where Wilders came from. Not much left there: about 15 seats in the polls. The Christian Union, currently 6 seats, likely to remain stable. The CU are left-wing fundie Christians. Everything left over is small fry.
But there is more. Given the current crisis, the next government must be a government that will raise tax. Ever heard about a government that reduces costs? Neither have I. The present government is pushing legislation to raise the retirement age form 65 to 67. The PVV is diametrically opposed to both. They want to reduce costs and invalidate any legislation to raise the retirement age. Not much of an encouragement for the CDA to invite the PVV to the table, what?
Generally speaking we can have a CDA-PvdA-GL-SP government. A firm majority, but highly unlikely to happen. Too damn close to North Korea.
Another option is CDA-PVV-VVD-?? A weak majority. Will at best happen if the CDA is bigger than the PVV, which is doubtful.
CDA-D66-PvdA-CU is a very likely bet. A weak majority, but assured to carry on the good work of the present government.
There are more options possible, but as far as I can see the PVV is going to be in the opposition again. Looking on the bright side: if you think it’s difficult to form a government with three parties, try four. The coming election will likely create the need for a 4 party government. They are notoriously unstable. Few are able to sit out the ride.
I think Wilders is smart enough to prefer to wait a bit. Better to be the biggest and most aggressive opposition party than join a very weak government that will almost certainly collapse. You have seen what the PVV can do with just 9 seats; what can they do with 40?
— H. Numan