Today is 50 days until parliamentary elections in the Netherlands on March 15th. The election will be the first test of the year for the European Union after a wave of populism in the form of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the United States. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at the political parties in depth and their manifestos, but for now here is what you need to know about the upcoming election.
THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Like many Western democracies, the Netherlands has both an upper and lower house – the Senate and the House of Representatives. Whilst the 150-seat House of Representatives is elected by the Dutch people in elections every five years, the Senate is elected by members of the country’s 12 provincial assemblies. The Senate’s power is limited and it is not able to amend legislation – it can only send legislation back to the House of Representatives.
Elections to the House of Representatives use proportional representation and, unlike some European countries like Germany, does not have a minimum threshold of support before parties can be represented in parliament. The proportional system means that parties almost always have to form coalition governments. Turnout is usually high, with almost 75% of people casting their vote in the last election in 2012.
It is currently made up of the following parties:
- People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (centre-right) – 41 seats
- Labour Party (centre-left) – 38 seats
- Party for Freedom (far-right) – 15 seats
- Socialist Party (left) – 15 seats
- Christian Democratic Appeal (centre/centre-right) – 13 seats
- Democrats 66 (centre) – 12 seats
- Christian Union (centre/centre-right) – 5 seats
- GreenLeft (centre-left) – 4 seats
- Reformed Political Party (right) – 3 seats
- Party for the Animals (left) – 2 seats
- 50PLUS (centre) – 2 seats
THE LAST PARLIAMENT
The election in 2012 resulted in Mark Rutte, leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), going into coalition with his rival Diederik Samsom, leader of the Labour Party. This was because Rutte’s former political partners, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Party for Freedom (PVV), lost seats in the election, making a left-right coalition the only realistic option.
Reforms under the left-right government included raising the pension age (which is now tied to life expectancy), reforming the housing market and agreement with employers and unions to simplify procedures for dismissal and do more to regulate freelance work. Although the coalition held, a rare occurance, it was extremely unpopular as many had voted Labour or VVD to keep the other out of office.
ISSUES IN THIS ELECTION
- Immigration is also a crucial issue in the election, specifically regarding integration of migrants into the country. Concerns raised by surveys which have shown that non-native Dutch people have attitudes towards homosexuality and women’s rights that are problematic have benefited the VVD in the polls. In an attempt to see off the far-right, Mr Rutte has upped his rhetoric on immigration, with a full-page advert in newspapers this week saying migrants to the Netherlands should “be normal or leave”.
- There is an atmosphere of discontent among some towards the European Union, which was expressed in a referendum last year – an overwhelming 66% of Dutch voters rejected proposals for an EU treaty with Ukraine. The VVD have capitalised on this with a strong anti-EU stance, advocating a Dutch withdrawal from the organisation.
- The parties disagree over the future direction of the country’s healthcare system, with Labour, the Socialist Party and the PVV wanting to see the reversal of liberalisation and privatisation of the service, whilst many other parties want to see greater choice for consumers and enhanced competition.
WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY?
Although polls have varied wildly in recent months, what is clear is that the parties of the previous government have lost support, and that support has gone to the far-right, as well as the left-wing GreenLeft and the centre 50PLUS party. However, there has been speculation that support for these three parties may wane come election day, particularly as 50PLUS and the GreenLeft’s new leader are both untested, and as support for the VVD tends to slip in the run-up to the vote itself.
The most recent seat projection puts the far-right PVV 9 seats ahead of Rutte’s VVD:
- Party for Freedom (PVV) – 33 seats
- People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) -24 seats
- GreenLeft – 16 seats
- Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) – 16 seats
- Democrats 66 – 14 seats
- Socialist Party – 11 seats
- Labour Party – 10 seats
- 50PLUS – 10 seats
- Christian Union – 5 seats
- Party for the Animals – 4 seats
- Reformed Political Party – 3 seats
- Other – 4 seats
However, in the wake of polling errors in the United Kingdom and in the United States, it is safe to take these projections with a pinch of salt.
Also, it is important to note that, although the PVV may become the largest party in the House of Representatives, they may find forming a coalition difficult. Many parties have said they will refuse to work with them in a coalition and radical plans in their manifesto may prove hard to deliver even if they could form a government.
Closer to election day, we’ll take an in-depth look at all the parties running in the March election as well as what the possible outcomes might be.