Elections in the Netherlands are now only a day away and progressive pro-European party Democrats 66 is hoping to improve on their performance in the last elections in 2012, where the party gained their most seats for more than a decade. Will they do so, and what do they hope to do if they play the role of kingmaker?
Democrats 66 (Democraten 66 – D66) was formed by a group of 44 young intellectuals in October 1966, led by journalist Hans van Mierlo. The main aim of this new party was to democratise institutions in the Netherlands, including the creation of an American-style presidential system. The party shot to electoral success, winning seven seats in parliament in elections in 1967. Following its immediate successes, the party started losing followers in the early 1970s and a motion at a party conference even proposed that D66 be abolished; a majority supported the decision, but it fell shy of the two-thirds required. Despite this, the party entered government for the first time in 1972 in a five-party coalition, alongside the Labour Party and the three parties that would eventually form the CDA four years later.
In response to the problems the party was having, then leader Jan Terlouw attempted to revitalise D66 by emphasising issues other than electoral reform that the party cared about. Terlouw’s efforts appeared to work, as the party doubled its membership and gained two more seats in the House of Representatives in the 1977 elections.
D66 re-entered government in 1981 after winning 17 seats and becoming the fourth largest party. However, the coalition agreement fell apart just nine months later due to clashes between the CDA and the Labour Party. Elections the following year saw D66 lose more than two-thirds of its support. The party would remain in opposition for 12 years.
In 1994, D66 had its best election to date, achieving over 15% of the vote and winning 24 seats in the House of Representatives. An eight-year long coalition with the Labour Party and the VVD saw significant liberalisation in the Netherlands, including the legalisation of euthanasia, same-sex marriage and prostitution.
Despite this, the party’s support waned and hit a low when the party fell to just three seats in 2006, with only 2% of the vote. That same year, the party lost many members with some forming a rival progressive liberal party – deZES.
Since the party’s terrible performance over a decade ago, D66 has slowly recovered – winning a total of 12 seats in the last election in 2012, but the party has never reached the same heights it achieved 23 years ago.
D66 is a social liberal party, supporting increases in public spending for education and innovation, greater investment in sustainable energy and nuclear power (with some caveats) and a mixed economy. The party also is a strong advocate for democratic reform, calling for the abolition of the Senate and direct elections for prime ministers and mayors. D66 also is pro-Europe, and is a proponent for greater European integration.
There are two camps within the party; radical democrats and progressive liberals. The radical democrats of the party have favoured a radical democratisation of Dutch society and change to the political system. This included support for a first-past-the-post voting system and a presidential system, similar to that of the United States. The progressive liberals, which emerged during Terlouw’s attempts to breathe new life into the party, champion issues such as environmental protection, innovation and public education.
The party has contested the election with the tagline of ‘good jobs, good care, good education and good climate’.
- Good jobs
- Make work pay by reducing employment and income taxes by €10 million
- Introduce a work bonus of €500 to all those in employment
- Reduce rates in the second and fourth brackets for income tax
- Introduce tax breaks for working parents
- Good care
- Create a national plan to improve care coverage for older generations
- Extra €400 million for the chronically ill, disabled and elderly
- Pledge to provide thousands more nurses to the health service
- €50 million in investment for the fight against cancer
- Scrap unnecessary rules and paperwork in the health service
- Good education
- Invest €4.5 billion for the best education for children
- Reduce class sizes to 24 pupils each to improve teaching standards
- Introduce a student travel pass that is valid for seven days a week
- Janitor at every primary school
- Good climate
- Close all coal plants by 2025 and ensure those who pollute the environment pay for the damage they cause
- Ensure all public transport is emission-free by 2025
- Tax breaks for those who drive electric cars and/or self-generate power
The party is also standing on the platform of ensuring all refugees learn Dutch to ensure their integration into society and ensuring the Netherlands remains a member of the European Union.
WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY?
Current seat projections suggest that D66 could almost match the party’s peak in 1994, with some polls suggesting the party could win 23 seats in parliament. Most of the polls taken over the last month almost guarantee an increase in the number of seats, varying between 14 and 20. This could put the party in a good position for entering a coalition, especially if a large number of parties are needed to fight off attempts by the PVV to form a government.