Incumbent Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the Christian Democrat (CDA) prime minister, has claimed a narrow win in the Dutch general election. The election was held on Wednesday and the centre-right wing CDA has claimed victory despite only claiming 41 of the available 150 seats. Though this represents a loss of three seats from the last election in 2003, this makes them the biggest party in the new parliament and they expect to rule in coalition with minor parties.
Balkenende acknowledged it will not be easy to form a new government. Under the Dutch system of proportional representation, it is practically impossible for one party to get an absolute majority. He told Dutch reporters “It will take time,” said Balkenende. “All parties will have to analyse how we can rule the country together. How can we give an answer to the questions of the Dutch electorate,” he asked. Balkenende’s coalition ran on an anti-immigration and pro-business platform and it may take weeks or months of haggling to form a workable government. Even then, it is likely to be too unstable to last the four year course.
Gerrit Zalm of coalition partner People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) acknowledged the uncertainty of the result “It’s chaos. It is extremely difficult to distil a government out of these results,” Zalm was finance minister in the last administration. The chaos saw voters turn to more extreme parties. Many people turned to the fringes to put the brakes on what they saw as frightening change. All centrist parties including the CDA and VVD lost votes in this election and the Opposition Labour party did even worse shedding 10 seats to end on 32. The far-left Socialist Party made the biggest inroads by tripling its vote on the promise to shield the Netherlands from the excesses of economic liberalism.
The Socialist Party (SP) is by led by a former communist, the charismatic Jan Marijnissen. Marijnissen has argued that the Dutch tendency to cry poor for the EU in comparison to the US is inaccurate despite the better US growth rate in the last ten years. Marijnissen claims it is due to the rapid population growth in the US and that if the measure is income per head, the EU comes up just short of the US and would be level if not for Germany. The real reason for the exaggerated pessimism, Marijnissen claims, is to create the conditions under which it can carry out a programme of drastic cuts in social provision. His words resonated with voters and the SP’s share of seats has increased from 8 to 25. Many Muslims also voted for the party in protest at the hardline stance on immigration adopted by the main parties.
Balkenende is unlikely to include the SP in his coalition but nonetheless will need to work with some left leaning parties or else risk an unworkable and unpredictable coalition of multiple ‘rats and mice’ parties. As many as 12 parties could win seats in parliament including the Party for Animals, which is on course to capture two seats. The hard right Party of Freedom also did well gathering 8 seats. Its leader Geert Wilders told the Guardian that "Islam is a violent religion".
There were 24 parties in all contesting the election. Faced with this dizzying choice, many voters turned to Internet sites that offered to draw up their political profiles and match voter and party. Sites such as Vote Matcher and Voting Compass offered multiple-choice questions before suggesting the best party to vote for or giving the respondent an idea where they fitted on the political pendulum. These two sites received three million hits in a month in a country with 17 million people. Opinion polls confirmed the importance of the sites by suggesting that up to one third of voters had not made up their mind on who to vote in the week prior to the election.
Despite the help of the internet, Dutch politics is no clearer as a result.