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Dutch Elections Surprising, Bring Change

June 10, 2010

The Dutch electoral system ranks as one of the most representative forms of the proportional representation seat allotment systems in the world. The most recently dissolved House of Representatives consisted of 10 distinct parties. Thus, that the results of yesterday’s elections in the Netherlands were that no single party received a majority of the 150 House seats was not particularly astonishing. No Dutch party has ever achieved such a feat.

But that is not to say that the results of Wednesday’s general election were not without surprise. First and foremost was the dramatic descent of the Christian Democrats (CDA). Under the leadership of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the CDA had been the strongest coalition party in the Netherlands since 2002 winning more seats than its competitors in each of the last three elections. Exit polls show that the CDA stands to nearly halve their previous share of the House from 41 down to 21.

Meanwhile, there is a tie for the title of top seat getting party. The right wing Liberal Party (VVD) and the Labour Party (PvdA) both look to receive 31 seats each. While this top spot may be seen as a positive for the PvdA it should be noted it actually lost 2 seats from its previous share of the House. The VVD fared much better, increasing their previous seat total by 9 from 22.

The biggest surprise was the success of the anti-immigraion/Islam Freedom Party (PVV). Led by the outspoken and controversial Geert Wilders, the PVV entered the House of Representatives in 2006 with a respectable 9 seats. After success in March local elections in Almere and The Hague, Wilders proclaimed that “…on 9 June, we’ll conquer the Netherlands.” While the PVV fell short of such a lofty goal it did make significant gains in its share of the House, winning 22 seats.

But as the Dutch might point out, the election is the easy part. Because there was no majority, it will be necessary to form a coalition government that consists of a majority of the House seats. The results do indeed make the prospect of forming coalitions from two or three ideologically similar parties almost unworkable. The PvdA and VVD seem like odd bedfellows as they are on opposite ends of the Left-Right political spectrum. Furthermore, a coalition between the two would not yield the at least 76 seats necessary to form a coalition.  A right wing coalition between the VVD, PVV, and CDA would fall just short of a majority at 74 seats. In a country whose population is nearly 10% Muslim, the controversial and sometimes inflammatory views on immigration and Islam by the PVV make it a risky partner for other parties in a potential coalition. In 2006 it took 3 months for a workable coalition to form. With the new power dynamic resulting from Wednesday’s general election, the Netherlands could be in for a long ride before the government resumes normal operation.

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