I decided to write my first post on the Dutch political developments, for the last 2 months I spent there – just after the general elections were held on 12 September. So I have heard a lot about the formative stages of the government and the criticism that came along with that. Then, when I had a look at the popularity of the ruling parties, I was shocked to see a collapse in the voters’ confidence of the PvdA and VVD, as well as the sharp increase in popularity of the more… radical… political party, the PVV, see below:
This chart (taking from http://www.peil.nl, which does a weekly polling among 800-1000 Dutch citizens, randomly selected to participate in an online survey on current political topics) shows the radical changes in voting behaviour of the Dutch over the last couple of months. Some notable events:
1. Elections were held on September 12. Have a look at the lines of the SP (Social Party) and the PvdA (Labour Party). One can see that shortly before the elections, the voters decided on a massive shift in confidence from SP (down by 20) to PvdA (up by 20). It would seem like the people are more comfortable to see the PvdA in the cabinet then they would see the SP. In fact, the SP has never been in any cabinet in the Netherlands since its founding in 1972.
2. PvdA and VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) gain the voters’ confidence and received a majority of the seats (79 in total, 38 for Labour and 41 for VVD) in the House of Representatives. The negotiations on the formation of the cabinet then starts. Very surprisingly is that after 2 weeks to VVD and PvdA agree on the economic package of the coalition agreement and eventually, after only 52 days after the elections, the VVD and PvdA managed to agree on the complete cabinet program for the next 4 years. The slogan of their government program is “Building Bridges”. The program focuses on getting the Netherlands better out of the economic crisis, despite the recognised difficulties they will face and that might bring. The VVD and PvdA are at very different positions in the political spectrum, the PvdA being much more left and coming up for the weak while the VVD is especially popular among the rich. The Poldermodel has been embraced again, leading to a more sustainable method of getting new laws through, for it rests on a approach of negotiation and agreement.
3. It seems that in the last three weeks the confidence of voters when it comes to the newly-formed cabinet is lost. The radical nationalist anti-Europe and anti-immigrants Party for Freedom (PVV) would be, according to the figures above, the biggest party were elections to be held right now. I fail to understand to motivations people have to change their vote so easily. Is the sudden shift in favour of the PVV simply an indication of the discontent of the cabinet’s decision-making? I perceive the current cabinet to be a serious attempt to adopt a longer-term policy with the genuine aim of getting the Netherlands ahead. Is it mere shortsightedness by a large group of the population failing to understand that it takes time, and hardship in times of economic crises, to get the country ahead?
Such radical shifts in voters’ preferences strike me with surprise. I wonder as to what are the motivations to jump from one party to another to a third.
Nonetheless, my view of Dutch politics is positive.The Dutch political system is a well-functioning democracy. Despite the fact that there have been quite disturbing trends over the years in both populist rhetoric and the support that came with it, the Dutch democratic apparatus functions according to the will of the majority.
The Dutch parliament is a true forum of discussion and the opposition can call the government accountable for its actions. Regularly, the opposition parties, even though they do not agree with one another on many issues, agree on particular sensitive or, for them relevant, topics and accordingly unify against the government’s policies. Besides the House of Representatives, the Senate is the second filter through which planned reforms are subject.
Comments and corrections are welcome.